§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, when the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, published its report in March 1977, the noble Lord and members of his committee may have reflected upon the length of time which is very often needed for recommendations to turn into action. If your Lordships look at the instructions which are to be found on a packet of asparagus seed you will find the words, "First dig a trench five years ago", and many a Government committee has waited a good deal longer than that for something to happen. To be fair, the three years since the Annan 524 Report, if I may so term the noble Lord's report, have not been wasted. There has been a great deal of discussion, the publication of the previous Government's White Paper, and now this Bill which comes before your Lordships for Second Reading today.
The Bill does not follow all the recommendations of Lord Annan's committee. In particular, we have not sought to establish additional broadcasting authorities besides the BBC and the IBA. But we have been much influenced by the committee's analysis of the way in which broadcasting operates in this country, and we have taken to heart the committee's proposition as to the four requisites of good broadcasting—flexibility, diversity, editorial independence and accountability.
The first thing that the Bill does, in Clause 1, follows a recommendation of the Annan Committee; namely, to extend the life of the IBA for a period of 15 years. Taken together with the grant, next year, of a new charter for the BBC for a similar period, this will provide for the continuation of the main structure of British broadcasting as we know it today. In planning for the future, I think it is important to bear in mind that broadcasting in the United Kingdom began with the BBC. The obligations upon and the standards of broadcasters, indeed the whole example of public service broadcasting, originated with the BBC. In seeking to point the way in which television could be developed in the future, the Annan Committee proposed the establishment of an Open Broadcasting Authority which would be responsible for a new fourth television channel. The Government are convinced that they must provide for a structure which gives a new television service sound finance and organisation, and we cannot see how an Open Broadcasting Authority could achieve financial viability. It has seemed to us that an OBA would need a substantial Government grant and need it indefinitely, but we believe that editorial independence and accountability, two criteria put forward by the Annan Committee, in the traditions of British broadcasting, would be well served if the new fourth channel came under the supervision of the IBA.
The general requirements as to the quality of the service and need for due impartiality which are laid down in the 525 main Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973 will bind the IBA with respect to the fourth channel, but in addition Clauses 3 and 4 are drafted in order to achieve a new and distinctive kind of television service. The Annan Committee in one of its memorable phrases said that the aim of a new broadcasting authority should be to encourage productions which say something new in new ways. Well, the objectives for the new television channel have very much the same aim in view and I think those objectives are worth repeating in detail. They are that the fourth channel should cater for tastes and interests not adequately provided for on the existing ITV service; that it should contain a suitable proportion of educational programmes; that it should encourage innovation and experiment, and should include a substantial proportion of programmes from independent producers. In addition, the IBA is required to ensure a proper balance of programmes within the existing ITV service, within the new service, and across both services.
These provisions will enable the IBA to be responsible for a new television channel, which will, however, be independent of the existing ITV channel. The Bill therefore requires the IBA to establish a subsidiary to carry out the tasks of acquiring programmes and putting them together to form the new programme service. But the subsidiary is not to be dominated by the ITV programme contractors and remains under IBA supervision and therefore subject to the obligations of the IBA.
The new channel will be funded from the sale of advertising time during the programmes to be shown on it. The general provisions governing advertising on the fourth channel will be the same as those for the existing ITV service. The Bill gives the right to sell this advertising time to the contractors for ITV, who, after all, will be financing the start of the new channel. We do not believe that competitive advertising would be in the interests of this new television channel. Inevitably, competitive advertising would mean competitive programming, and out of the window would fly all the good intentions, which have wide support, for a distinctive and original kind of service.
However, may I immediately say that I am sure that it is absolutely vital that the 526 advertisers should be able to consult with the broadcasters in order to ensure good practice in these advertising matters. In order to achieve that objective the IBA has already established an advertising liaison committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, involving the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, together with the contractors.
It is worth noticing, before leaving this part of what I am saying, that the new channel's budget will not be determined by the ITV contractors. The IBA is going to determine the amount of money needed, in consultation with the subsidiary, and it will then require subscriptions to be paid by the ITV companies in addition to the rental which they pay in respect of the existing ITV service. Initially, while advertising revenue is building up on the fourth channel, there will be a fall in the amount of levy which the companies pay. But it is our firm intention that the fourth channel shall be financially self-supporting as soon as possible and in due course financially profitable.
We hope that the new service will start in the autumn of 1982, but there is much to be done. The IBA are getting ahead with the engineering of the transmitters, and they have also, as your Lordships will be aware, recently announced the appointment as consultants of those whom they intend, subject to the enactment of this Bill, to form the board of the fourth channel subsidiary. The IBA have been at great pains to stress that their planning is provisional and dependent upon the enactment of the Bill, hence the appointment as "consultants". But I hope your Lordships, when we come to that part of the Bill in Committee, will look favourably upon it and will wish well to those who undoubtedly are going to have a difficult but a very worthwhile task in this particular respect.
I shall turn for a moment to something quite different in the Bill. I am aware that the Government's proposals for Welsh language television programmes have been the subject of criticism from Welsh speakers. I accept that they have every right to be concerned that their programmes should be shown at a convenient time during the day or the evening. We have therefore made provision for 527 that. Clause 20 of the Bill requires that the two broadcasting authorities should consult about scheduling. The aim of this requirement is to avoid clashes in the scheduling of Welsh language programmes and to ensure that a proper proportion of those programmes are shown at peak times. In addition, Clause 20 requires the Secretary of State to appoint a person as an adviser on the scheduling of Welsh language programmes. The appointment will in practice be made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, but after consultation with the Secretary of State for Wales. This adviser will be able to advise the BBC and the IBA on any matters which either of them refers to him arising out of their consultations.
Although in that respect Clause 20 goes a long way to ensure that Welsh language programmes are shown at convenient times, after more consideration the Government have decided on a further step. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales last week announced in another place our intention to provide in the Bill for a Welsh language television committee. The committee, which will be appointed by the Home Secretary after consultation with the Secretary of State for Wales, will have an independent chairman and at the moment it is certainly our intention that it should be the same person as the scheduling adviser. The BBC's national governor for Wales and the IBA's national member for Wales will be ex officio members of this committee. The remaining members will come from among those nominated by the broadcasting authorities. This will ensure the closest possible working relationship between the BBC and the IBA.
The committee will review the extent to which the television programmes in Welsh serve the interests of Wales, and it will report annually to the Home Secretary who will be required to lay the report before both Houses of Parliament. The report will, of course, also be sent to both the BBC and the IBA. I intend to bring forward an amendment at the Committee stage to achieve that, and I hope that when we come to that stage of the Bill your Lordships will look favourably upon that particular move.
528 Part III of the Bill—that is Clauses 8 to 15—establishes the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Such a body was recommended by the Annan Committee. Our predecessors accepted that recommendation and there appears to be general agreement on the desirability of establishing a body of that kind.
The remit that we propose for the commission is essentially that recommended by the Annan Committee. It will deal with complaints of unjust or unfair treatment in sound or television programmes actually broadcast, and with complaints of unwarranted infringement of privacy in such programmes or in their preparation. We do not propose to extend that remit to include general complaints about the taste, content or standard of a programme or programmes: we agree with Lord Annan's Committee that this sort of complaint is different in kind from one by an individual (or an organisation) who feels that he has been unfairly treated. Complaints about programmes will continue to go to the broadcasting authorities.
The commission will, as we envisage it, be a small body. We do not think that it will need more than the minimum three members required by the Bill and its staff need not be large. But we believe that it will further instil public confidence in our television services.
There is one further point that I should like to make and it concerns a new development of significance for which the Bill provides, which is to be found in Part IV in Clauses 16 and 17. I am referring to the introduction of a levy on the profits of independent local radio companies on the same lines as that which is already payable by the independent television companies. The justification for such a levy is that the companies derive their profits from the statutory monopoly which they have been accorded and that the Exchequer is entitled to a share of those profits in such circumstances. No levy was, of course, imposed on the independent local radio system at its inception, because the future of the system was uncertain. But I think that your Lordships will know—certainly I think that many of us know from local radio in our own areas —that independent local radio now occupies an important place in broadcasting.
529 Of the first batch of 19 stations, a number are making satisfactory profits. They are the ones that will become liable for levy. However, local radio is still developing and, in particular, independent local radio stations are liable to pay, as well as the basic rental to cover the IBA's transmission and administration costs, a so-called "secondary" rental which goes towards the expansion and improvement of the ILR system. The existence of the two rentals is recognised—if your Lordships care to look at Schedule 2, paragraph 1— in the lower rate at which the Bill sets the levy for independent local radio.
I think that in this country we are very lucky in our broadcasting system. The Government are determined that this fortunate position should continue. But we should equally not become complacent and fail to recognise the potential of new developments to enrich what we already have. This Bill seeks to provide for new developments by building on the sound structure which already exists. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, many of your Lordships will already have learnt that you cannot believe everything you read in print. If you look at the speaker's list your Lordships will see that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, should be speaking now and that I should be speaking at the end of the debate. That is due to a mistake which may even have been made by my own Whips—I do not know. However, it is a mistake which I refuse to accept and so does my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. Therefore, we have gone back to where we started.
This Bill is not one which divides the parties with great bitterness. Both sides are anxious to build a fourth channel which will be different, often but not always serious, which will cater for some minority tastes, and which will in particular enable programmes of real merit to be shown at times which would not be possible for them on ITV-I, which has to cater for popular entertainment as well. Above all, it should be a channel which does not have to chase the ratings and 530 which can explore and use talent outside the range of the regular programme contractors; there is a great deal of it in Britain today, thanks to the energetic policies of the Arts Council under previous and, if I may say so, more generous Governments.
The board of the fourth channel is being committed to encourage independent producers and that could enlarge the diversity and range of television publishing a very great deal. It should present new opportunities to those engaged in the performing arts, in writing and in the film world. We favoured the Annan version of an Open Broadcasting Authority. Indeed may I in passing say what a very distinguished report the noble Lord gave us. It has been a pleasure to have the time to re-read it again much more carefully than I read it the first time.
I think that the noble Lord who opened is correct in saying that in many of the main essentials of the Bill the Annan Report has been followed, or at least the Bill could not have existed without the background of the Annan Report. Certainly, the Open Broadcasting Authority would have cost the taxpayer more to run, at any rate to begin with, than a subsidiary under the IBA, which is the Government's version in this Bill. It is important to build in the proper safeguards, and then this version may indeed do as much and be as good as the Open Broadcasting Authority envisaged in the Annan Report.
There is a difference of opinion between the parties of a general kind, not universal in either case, but none the less real. A good many people on my side are by nature suspicious of broadcasting funded by advertising and would much prefer the public service approach laid down long ago by Lord Reith, to the inevitably more commercial approach of ITV; and there are a good many people on the other side who passionately believe in free competition, in competitive advertising, in the right to make as much money as one can through pleasing the public, and who reject and regard as over-pious the public service approach.
But most of us on both sides of the House approve the dual system of a public service BBC and commercially-motivated ITV. I welcome the Home Secretary's endorsement, which he made in his speech 531 on 3rd July, of the principle that the BBC should continue to be funded through the revenue from the television licence fee, and his emphasis that there should be no question that any BBC broadcasting should be in any way, or even partially, dependent on revenue from advertising. This is the view that I think by far the greater part of my party hold extremely strongly, and we are very pleased that it has been confirmed.
As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, the BBC was there first and has set standards which ITV could not ignore. The IBA has controlled the programme contractors firmly and, on the whole, successfully; has set its face against competitive advertising which, in its opinion and, on the whole, in ours, leads to the slippery slope; and has allowed the contractors to make a great deal of money without too much debasing the product.
However, there is more than a suspicion that, because of their buoyant revenues, some ITV companies indulge in what can only be called conspicuous expenditure. This not only reduces the amount of the levy that is paid, but also makes matters even more financially difficult for the BBC.
Before discussing the details of the plans in the Bill before us, I should like to say a few words about something which is not in the Bill at all; that is, the BBC. As I have said, the success of the IBA in directing and controlling the existing channel is due to a great extent to the extremely high standards set by the BBC. In the early days of independent TV, prospects were uncertain and the whole enterprise was, from a capital point of view, somewhat risky. But the gamble has paid off handsomely and a great deal of money is being made.
At the same time, the BBC has been forbidden to charge the price for its licence fees which would enable it to maintain its standards on a level with the last few years, which means, as we have seen, cuts in all directions. I am not concerned here with the cuts themselves, though many of us are very unhappy about some of them. But the BBC is being pushed down by the Government at the very moment when ITV profits are booming.
532 In addition, the creation of a fourth channel must find its audience from the existing three channels, two of which belong to the BBC. The noble Lord, Lord Hill, speaking from his unique position as ex-chairman of both institutions, in a most impressive speech in this House on 11th June, made an unanswerable case, in my opinion, for allowing the BBC to charge more for its licence fee. His facts and figures are in Hansard for all to see, but the fundamental statistics which he quoted are worth restating, though no doubt there are other statistics which would prove something quite different. In 1978–79 the BBC produced 21½ hours of programmes each week for £208 million; the ITV produced 14½ hours of programmes each week during the same period for £233 million. Thus, the BBC produced 50 per cent. more for nearly 10 per cent. less; and ITV's income is considerably higher—I believe something like 20 to 25 per cent. higher. Here I would refer to the speech of the director-general of the BBC to the broadcasting press on 8th July, which stated the case clearly and well and proposed various solutions, which I beg the Government to study carefully.
I am not maintaining that a public service like the BBC must be allowed to spend pound for pound what the commercial contractors spend, but the two things must be kept in a fairly stable relationship, especially when the authority considers what is and what is not relevant expenditure for levy purposes; otherwise the BBC obviously will—it is already beginning—go on losing its best people in all its functions, technical as well as artistic, to ITV. Money does not necessarily make good programmes, but the lack of money can certainly spoil them.
Therefore, we shall give general support to the Bill, but with the strongest warning that it can lead only to the development of broadcasting which we all want if the Government begin to look after the BBC somewhat more generously than they have recently.
I should like now to turn to the Bill itself. There was prolonged discussion in another place as to the length of time for which the IBA charter should be renewed, but the Government conceded that after 533 the eight-year span of the next ITV franchises, beginning in January 1982, these must be re-advertised for competitive tender for the awarding of further seven-year contracts. On this basis we are prepared to accept the 15-year extension in the Bill, which was, in fact, the Annan recommendation.
The most important clause in the Bill is Clause 3, which attempts to lay down in general terms what the Government expect a fourth channel to do. My colleagues in the other place tried to make these terms more specific, but the Government rejected this attempt and I think they were right. One cannot establish a new channel and tell its directors what to do. One can only lay down general terms and then see how adequately they are carried out. Anything more specific would tie the hands of the directors in a way that no independent director worth his salt would tolerate.
The words in Clause 3 are certainly general, but they are not ambiguous. Perhaps I may quote again two sentences; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has already quoted them, but as this is the key to the Bill I shall do so again. The programmes are to contain,a suitable proportion of matter calculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by Service I…to ensure that a suitable proportion of the programmes are of an educational nature; to encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes, and generally to give the Fourth Channel a distinctive character of its own".So far, so good. These terms are a paraphrase of paragraph 15 of our own White Paper, and we agree with them. But general terms of this sort can be misinterpreted and gradually eroded, and in our opinion it is essential that there should be an independent source of monitoring and, if necessary, criticism to make sure that their spirit is properly maintained. That is the one thing that is missing in the Bill, and I shall propose a new clause to remedy that omission. I think that it can be linked to the Annan Report's suggestion in its recommendation No. 6 for periodical review, but we can discuss the details in Committee. The point is, the more general the definition of duties in Clause 3, the more essential is independent judgment as to whether the standards which were implied are, in fact, being met over the period.
534 We have had a very strong representation from the Open University about monitoring the educational content of programmes. In my opinion the right way to achieve results of real merit, whether artistic, educational, scientific or simply entertaining, is to give the director his head, check his results and change him if they do not come up to scratch. I congratulate the IBA on appointing my right honourable friend, Mr. Edmund Dell, as chairman of the subsidiary board responsible for running the new channel. I can think of no one better suited to the post, and it is up to us to see that he has his head. But I think we must check his results.
At the least we should see the subsidiary's articles of association which define its powers. It must be able to negotiate from strength and at arm's length with the ITV contractors for the services they need and the programmes they wish to buy. They will be paying the contractors for the programmes purchased. If they do not have this strength they will have to take what is given them and this will prevent them from developing their own concept of the new network. They will need powers to negotiate and trade in rights and properties as they think fit. TV4 will be a wonderful "shop window" for producers who, once their programmes are seen, can go on to exploit them commercially in the world markets. TV4 should benefit financially from this trading.
There has been some worry about having four representatives of the major programme contractors on the subsidiary board, but it does not worry me as much as it worries some of my colleagues. Under a strong chairman and with no more than a third of the votes they will not be able to plug their own interest unduly and will, I feel sure, be as anxious to make a cultural success of the fourth channel as any of their colleagues on the board.
The important point is that the subsidiary will be given a fixed sum with which to do its job and will therefore be wholly independent of commercial influences whether from contractors or advertisers, and here I may say that after due consideration I fully support the Government's refusal to admit competitive advertising into the scheme. We have had useful discussions with representatives of the 535 Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and representatives of the agencies, and both parties have emphasised to us that there is some discontent among those who buy advertising at having always and only to deal with monopolies. This one can understand; they thought and hoped that the fourth channel would provide an alternative to compete with the present contractors.
On reflection, and after some discussion with the IBA, we have conluded that the great virtue of the proposed system is that the new channel is allotted a fixed sum and no action of itself in relation to advertising can increase or decrease it, and above all that it need not always have a weather eye on the ratings. In so far as there is legitimate complaint from the advertisers and their agents, obviously the IBA must see to it. Under Clause 7(2)(d) complaints have to be listed in the annual report so there will be ample motive for them to put right anything that these show to be wrong. The advertising committee, to which the noble Lord referred, will certainly help in this. So we shall make no amendments under this heading.
This brings me to the question of sponsorship. In our White Paper we left the way open for sponsoring without giving positive approval. My own feeling is that sponsoring might be very useful to the new channel. As it works in the arts world today the advantage to the sponsoring company is strictly limited to the associaton of the company's name with a supposedly prestigious artistic event. I should like to see the fourth channel able to say to, for example, the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company, "Yes, if you put on a season of Ibsen and Strindberg, sponsored by the X company, we will show them at peak viewing times and the association with the company will he mentioned discretely at the beginning or the end".
I cannot see that this contains the same risks as competitive advertising. As far as I can understand the main Act of 1973, Section 8 outlaws sponsorship except as stated in subsection (6) for any programme broadcast in an educational series under Section 3(2) of the Act. I should like to feel that "educational" in this sense applies to serious music and drama and 536 art generally. If there is any doubt about this we should be inclined to put down an amendment. I do not know whether the Minister can enlighten me today, but this is an important question to which I should like to have the answer in due course.
One item I must mention here, to which the Minister referred, is that there is the strongest possible resentment in Wales at the Government's failure to carry out their clear promise to concentrate Welsh programmes in both Welsh and English on the fourth channel. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn will deal with this both today and in Committee, and I am relieved and happy to be able to leave this hot potato in his competent hands.
There are some good reasons, I think, for restricting advertising during times allocated to children's programmes, even though our own White Paper thought it unnecessary. A good deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then. I shall return to this in Committee. The only other item of major importance is the complaints commission. Here we are entirely in favour of what the Bill says, and will keep any detailed points until the Committee stage.
I have said nothing about the very important question of local radio, nor indeed of the problems of teletext, because my noble friend Lord Ponsonby will deal with these points when he sums up our views at the end of the debate. Let me repeat that we support a Second Reading for this Bill which, if we can make sure of the necessary safeguards, can create a fourth channel of the kind we all want to sec. But let me repeat also that this must not coincide with a general rundown of the BBC, which will remain, and must remain, the basis of broadcasting in this country.
§ 4.27 p.m.
My Lords, I shall do my best this afternoon to resist the temptation to raise Committee points, many of which are floating about in my mind, since there will of course be other and perhaps longer opportunities to do that. Therefore, noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall do my best to speak briefly on the broad intentions of this Bill. In that connection I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord 537 Belstead, for explaining the broad intentions of the Bill so clearly to us.
I should like to deal with four main themes—there are a number, but four main themes arising under this Bill. First, that of the very necessary extension of the life of the Independent Broadcasting Authority; secondly, the provision of a fourth channel of television; thirdly, the allocation of that channel to the Independent Broadcasting Authority under the arrangements so clearly outlined by the noble Lord; and, fourthly, the entirely new matter of the establishment of a complaints commission.
With regard to the extension of the life of the IBA, I should have thought that that is something which would he welcomed on all sides of your Lordships' House. The IBA and the programme contractors in both radio and television which operate under its auspices have proved their worth beyond all shadow of doubt, and I think all noble Lords would wish to see the extension of the life of the IBA, together with these provisions for the IBA to appoint contractors to provide independent television and radio for periods of up to eight years. I think that part of the Bill would command the support of us all.
Secondly, with regard to the provision of the fourth channel, I would say at once that we on these Benches certainly believe that there is need for a fourth channel and that there is genuine scope for the expansion of television. I have no doubt that there is a great deal of unused, creative talent in our land which ought to be provided with more opportunities and more outlets. I also believe that the maximum guarantee of the things which we cherish regarding impartiality and the rights of minorities lies really in giving viewers a maximum range of choice in programmes. Here I mean real choice. I do not mean the kind of choice one has today in New York, where from 13 different channels one can choose between 13 different old films. I mean a real choice from a variety of programmes presented by a variety of people. That is the important point. The real safeguard for the kind of matters about which we in this House are all concerned lies in the number and variety of individuals who are responsible for programme-making. In so far as the provision of a new channel 538 increases that number it provides us with new safeguards and greater choice and is to be welcomed.
As to the decision to allocate the fourth channel to the Independent Broadcasting Authority, or at least to place the responsibility for the provision of this channel on the shoulders of the IBA, here I must echo some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. It seems to me that in our present economic difficulties and financial constraints it is logical to give this responsibility to the IBA under the arrangements outlined where a fourth channel can be provided at no additional public cost.
However, I should refer, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, did, to the fact that at present it would be utterly impossible to place this responsibility on the shoulders of the BBC, and I am bound to repeat what I have said before in your Lordships' House; namely, that I regard a situation in which the BBC has become financially dependent on the Government of the day, on a continuing and almost month to month basis, seems to put at nought the whole of the arrangements envisaged in the charter of the BBC, which was designed to put the control and management of broadcasting at a distance from Government. It is time we thought whether the present system of the licence fee was the best, or indeed the only, method of financing public broadcasting, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that discussions along those lines were continuing. Nevertheless, it would have been impossible at this time to have given this responsibility to the BBC and it is therefore right to give it to the IBA under the arrangements as outlined.
I also welcome what the noble Lord said about the measures taken in this connection to separate the sale of advertisements from the actual business of programme making. Sometimes I think noble Lords and others have unnecessary fears and tend to feel that the duty to sell adverts by an independent television company might interfere with editorial decision and affect programme content. I digress briefly to mention my experience presenting programmes for many years for one of the independent television contractors. On one occasion in a consumer programme which I presented for 10 years I had occasion to refer to con- 539 tracts offered for the sale of certain articles by an advertiser with that particular television company and to advise viewers that they were not very sensible arrangements, the end result of which was that the programme company concerned—I will not mention which it was—immediately lost the advertisements of that company and therefore lost a great deal of money. Noble Lords may be interested to hear that instead of receiving a rebuke from the chairman of that company, I received a message of congratulations telling me that the fact that they lost those adverts showed I was doing the job properly. Thus, the fact that the independent television companies sell adverts does not mean that the business of selling adverts has any impact on programme content, though I accept that I have given just one example and that one swallow does not make a summer. I believe that, with a new venture such as this, perhaps it is right to put the two things at a distance.
As to the establishment of the complaints commission, it is obviously necessary to provide some reasonably open avenue through which complaints can be channelled and investigated by people who are not directly under the control of those who are complained about, and in so far as the new complaints commission does that, it is to be welcomed. I hasten to add that it seems a better arrangement than merely leaving the whole thing, as at present, to the admirable efforts of the indefatigable Mrs. Whitehouse, and I do not say that with any feeling of criticism; I believe that a commission of some kind such as is envisaged is probably desirable.
But at first sight the complaints commission looks to me very like the Press Council, and without any disrespect to noble Lords who have done distinguished and admirable work on behalf of the Press Council, I cannot honestly say that that body has been an entirely unqualified success. Here, however—with the complaints commission—there is a slight difference. I note that the areas in which complaints can be investigated are defined clearly in the Bill and that the Bill refers to quite important matters such as intrusions upon personal privacy. It is necessary that the privacy of private citizens should be defended, but perhaps they should be defended against anybody and 540 not only against the broadcasting companies. It is about 10 years since the Younger Committee recommended that the Press Council should be given powers to inquire into matters of the intrusion into privacy in relation to the press, and I wonder whether we do not need something more general, an Act, to protect the privacy of the individual citizen from intrusion, be it by the police, computers, the press, television or whatever.
Noble Lords will know that we on these benches also believe in a Freedom of Information Bill, and some noble Lords may think it a little inconsistent to campaign on the one hand for a Freedom of Information Bill and on the other for a Bill to preserve and defend the privacy of the individual. That is the kind of tightrope along which noble Lords on these Benches have many long years of experience of treading. However, I would broadly welcome the complaints commission, save to say it seems a little like the Press Council, so we shall have to wait to see whether it turns out to be a success, but I am sure it is right that an independent avenue for the channelling and investigation of complaints should be established.
Having outlined those as the main provisions and commented on them, I say at once that broadly we are in support of the Bill. The fact that I have not referred to the Welsh language does not mean it is not a matter of importance to noble Lords on these Benches. It is, but I think it better that it should be dealt with by people who speak and understand that language, and there are enough of them in your Lordships' House to deal effectively with those matters. Nor have I said much about the new provisions regarding independent local radio, and perhaps here I should declare an interest as a director of an independent local radio company. I am a little concerned about the extent to which the Government appear anxious to hedge in the IBA with all sorts of restrictions and rules regarding re-advertising contracts, this, that and the other. I should have thought that the IBA had proved beyond all possible doubt its ability to control the companies which operate under its auspices, its ability to protect the public interest and its ability to deal with infringements. I should have thought, therefore, that we should be a little hesitant about hedging in the IBA with too many rules. The 541 IBA has proved it can be trusted and I think we would be wiser merely to trust the IBA rather than to say, "We trust them, but we will put in this, that and the other provision just to make absolutely sure".
There are certain minor provisions in the Bill which I am sure should be welcomed with regard to changes in the old Section 4(2) of the Television Act which, for certain noble Lords who happened to be directors of independent television or radio companies, made it possible for them to say exactly what they liked on the BBC, but they could not utter a word on independent television or radio, and in so far as these minor provisions tidy that up, that too is to be welcomed. In conclusion, I would merely say that, broadly, we welcome the Bill and will give it all possible encouragement, although there are many points we shall wish to probe and examine in detail at later stages.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord ANNAN
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is noted for his quite exceptional courtesy in your Lordships' House, and I wish to say how grateful I am to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for the extremely kind things that they said about the report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting. I want to give a warm welcome to the Bill and to congratulate the Home Secretary upon standing firm on numbers of matters on which he must have been under very strong pressure to yield. On one matter, which is of course of fundamental importance to broadcasting, I doubt whether he was ever much troubled; that is, that broadcasting should be under the direct control of broadcasting authorities. That is a principle on which both the Government and the Opposition agree, though there are still rumbles from an intransigent minority who want either a communications commission to supervise all the media, or a broadcasting council. I never thought that Mr. Whitelaw would be taken in by such agruments, and I could not be more pleased to see that he rejected the recommendation in the report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting for a public inquiry board for broadcasting.
I hope that I am not being too indiscreet when I say that that recommendation in the report was the best compromise 542 that could be reached between those on the committee who wanted a broadcasting council and those who, like myself, would have signed a minority report rather than recommend such a threat to liberty. In the end all that emerged was an inoffensive little proposal, which quite rightly has been ignored. Indeed, the BBC and the IBA have followed meticulously another proposal which was that they should themselves hold public hearings, which they have done with great assiduity. May I ask the Minister whether he would encourage both authorities to publish a brief summary of what they heard from the public and what they then did in response?
The Bill provides for another safeguard to the public which the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting recommended. That is the independent Complaints Commission, and I shall say nothing more about it, other than to add how glad I am to see it there and how pleased I am about the remit that it has been given.
The Bill is mainly about the fourth channel. Here again, I think that the Home Secretary has got it right. He set his face against an ITV 2 run solely by the companies, and he has also rejected the desire of the advertising agencies who favoured a fully competitive fourth channel. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, had the Home Secretary accepted those proposals, the quality of broadcasting would have suffered incalculably. The truth is that the demand for advertising is so great that it would have had very little effect on the price; so even the most hardened monetarist would have been robbed of that particular justification. Instead we are to have a service run by a company under the IBA.
Some of your Lordships may ask whether I mourn the extinction of the Open Broadcasting Authority. I answer, not at all. The Open Broadcasting Authority was born from an idea of Mr. Tony Smith, who, I may say, is one of the few good academic experts on broadcasting. They are not all that numerous, I fear. It was he who talked about setting up a foundation to run the fourth channel. Our committee took that piece of dough and began to bake it. I do not think that it got get very far in the baking before we had to finish our report. The new fourth channel is really the same loaf, only now it is done to a turn.
543 Some people argue that the new arrangements are a sell-out to the commercial television companies. That is rubbish. The Open Broadcasting Authority would always have had to have an enormous input from ITV, who alone could finance it. So both the OBA and the fourth channel are a charge on the Exchequer. But as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, made very clear, the difference is this: the OBA would have been a permanent charge on the taxpayer, whereas if you put the fourth channel under the IBA and make it a charge on the levy, the ITV companies may eventually make profits and the Exchequer will recover the loss that it took by the increase in the levy which will then follow. I am bound to say that I think that Mr. Whitelaw has got this one right.
What is more, he has insisted that the independent producers should be given time on the air. I am very pleased to note that whereas elsewhere the Bill uses the term "suitable", in Clause 4(3) when it deals with the independent producers, the Bill speaks of a "substantial" amount of time. Channel 4, through the independent producers, has a chance to break not just the monopoly of the companies, but also the monopoly of power which the ACTT enjoys and ruthlessly exploits.
Mr. Whitelaw has also seen to it that the company that he has set up to run the fourth channel has a lively group of directors. I am sure that both sides of the House will welcome Mr. Dell's appointment as chairman, and I personally am reassured by seeing that not only Mr. Tony Smith, but also that redoubtable member of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting, Mrs. Sara Morrison, are to be members of the hoard. The company is responsible for scheduling, and that is the most important matter of all, because by scheduling programmes either one can give choice to viewers or, alternatively, one can try to smash one's competitors' programmes operated on other channels.
I wish to emphasise that the company should not be treated by the IBA as yet another independent television company. Its purpose is defined in the Bill, and it is quite different from that of the companies 544 that run ITV 1. The company—not the IBA—must be responsible for day-to-day policy, because the company, and the company alone, can judge how best to use the facilities of the channel. The role of the IBA should be to monitor the output, not to control it. That, I think, is what a broadcasting authority has always done, and has always stood for in this country. In my view, in no circumstances should the company negotiate with trade unions or become involved in any way with industrial relations. Contracts and conditions of work are the concern of those who appear on Channel 4. So I believe that Mr. Whitelaw rightly puts his trust in the subsidiary company to do the right thing for the public, and yet at the same time to make in the end a reasonable profit for the broadcasters.
There is only one area in which I am sad to see anxiety about financial viability prevail over what I think is political and cultural good sense. A succession of reports, from the Siberry Report to the report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting, recommended that the fourth channel in Wales should be purely Welsh speaking. I am not a Welshman, but let me say this. Welsh is the oldest language in these islands. It is one of the dialects of the ancient Britons. Of course it is not the same language. Just as a modern Greek does not speak the Greek of the New Testament, so Welsh is not exactly the language that King Arthur spoke. But it is the tongue that a fifth of the population of Wales speaks today. One might say something like that about Gaelic or Erse. But the truth about the Welsh language is different. The language is slowly dying out, and perhaps more from television than from any other cause. For more and more children, English, not Welsh, becomes the mother tongue, the first language that they really learn.
Now I know that the IBA argues that a fourth channel in Welsh could never pay, and that, given a choice, the Welsh would prefer to have public money spent on social services rather than on subsidising a Welsh fourth channel. That is a specious argument that rests on hypothecation. One might just as well say that the Welsh deplore that so much is spent on hospitals and so little on education.
545 The second argument that the IBA use is that the English-speaking Welsh would be deprived and would turn their aerials towards English transmitters more than they do now. Well, why not? Why not make it possible for much of Wales to hear either output?—and you could do this by skilful engineering. The IBA then say, "Ah, but they would miss those hours of Welsh programmes which we will be transmitting." My Lords, those who do not understand Welsh in Wales will not be listening to them anyway. I think this decision will lead to political trouble which could have been avoided, but there is perhaps one way to minimise it. Will the Government conduct an inquiry in Wales to judge how public opinion lies on this issue?
I am a little surprised that the Home Secretary did not decide to break the monopoly of the BBC and the programme companies by compelling them to relinquish copyright over what programmes are to be shown next week. It is really a terrible bore to have to buy both the Radio Times and the TV Times. But I bear that with fortitude, because I am very glad to see in the Bill that local radio companies are no longer to be forced to include among their financial backers a proportion of local newspaper-owners who have shown that new local radio stations have not eaten into their profits.
On the other hand, I sympathise with the IBA's alarm that all radio contracts should be put up for "grabs" every eight years. I am not going to criticise the Government for failing to set up a local broadcasting authority, though I myself think that local radio as run by the independent local radio companies is one of the most important of social developments today, far more important than Channel 4. I think it is important because it is one of the things which, at a time of mounting unemployment, is going to provide, through the local radio stations, opportunities for people to broadcast and communicate about chances to get jobs. That is just one of the many social uses to which local radio is being put; and, here, I should like to pay tribute to many of the companies, and in particular one which I remember criticising in the report as being rather too fond of jingles. That is Capitol Radio, which I think has become a unique and first-class station.
546 But I am bound to say that an obligation of the kind which has, so I understand it, been put on the IBA is the surest way to turn that authority into a sprawling bureaucracy, and grossly to overwork the members of the authority—who, I may say, receive a derisory honorarium. How can the authority review 60 franchises, call for applications, examine consortia and hold public meetings at the rate, in some years, of about 10 a year?
My Lords, let me leave that and let me then say that I am far from sure that the way in which the levy is calculated is right; but I believe we must still give more time to consider this. You must not constantly pull up the roots of procedures to see how they are growing. But I believe that in a few years' time the way in which the levy is calculated, raised on profits, is a matter which must be reconsidered. It is this, I think, more than anything else, which has brought about the disparity in the salaries and wages which the ITV workforce expect to get and which the BBC workforce can hope to get. It is not only salaries and wages: it is perks.
There are some television companies —and I hasten to say that they are in a minority, and a comparatively small minority—in which the gargantuan appetite of the local union branches feeds upon the greed of top management. When companies have their own private aircraft—which, being regional companies, you would hardly think that they would need—is it any wonder that such scandalous practices of time plus four or five times over week-ends, or blackmail over the rate of the daily allowance when a crew is on location abroad, fluorish as they do now among the workforce? Overmanning and restrictive practices in ITV are as bad now as they were in the now defunct British film industry.
My Lords, reference has already been made to the lean times on which the BBC has fallen, and, like all of us in the public sector—universities alike—we are now bound to get yearly increases. Indeed, I think the BBC is very lucky to get a yearly increase. In the universities, in recent years, we have not known more than three months ahead how much money we are to get. But the whole question of whether the licence fee is the right way to 547 raise revenue for the BBC must always be a matter of public concern. I ask myself sometimes whether the BBC has quite made sufficient effort yet to cut its bureaucracy. I still maintain that the BBC is made to go on competing in local radio when its role is that of a great national corporation. The cuts it has suffered in its national radio services have been brought about partly by its determination to go on creating new local radio stations.
Now the BBC is in dispute with the Musicians' Union. I hope we shall find there is a satisfactory end to that dispute, but, again, I must say that it is a union which seems to be determined that none of its members should have his contract terminated, but that only the members of other unions should have their contracts terminated. The sure way to destroy good broadcasting is to insist on high premium payments, a rigidly closed shop, overmanning and resistance to any cut. On these grave matters the Bill is silent. But will the Home Secretary please keep this matter of comparative costs in the BBC and ITV under review? I was very glad indeed to hear the noble Lord say that there are these various options which are now under review and are being studied in the Home Office.
May I end by apologising that an engagement in my university will prevent me from being present at the close of the debate this evening, and by saying perhaps this. It is to me a matter of sadness that when I compare the state of broadcasting today with what it was when the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting examined it, I am bound to say that I think there has been a decline—a decline in morale, more even than a decline in quality. This has come about, I think, by the deterioration of personal relations at all levels throughout the industry. It is the national malaise from which we now suffer.
I think it is true, probably, in every walk of life that things have become much more difficult, and it is affecting output at the moment. I believe that a tremendous effort must be made by those in management to try to restore morale and to try to get, also, reasonable agreements between organised labour and management in the industry. That is extremely hard at the moment, owing to the turn that events 548 have taken and the way in which the services are often disrupted by sudden industrial action. Nevertheless, I think the principles of the Bill are quite right, and I also think that it gives the industry, or at any rate part of it, a chance to expand and create employment at a time when other industries are having the greatest difficulty in maintaining their present output. That is one of the main reasons why I give such a warm welcome to the Bill.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Belstead on the admirable way in which he opened this debate, and then go on to express my surprise, on this particular subject, at being put in to bat so high up the list. We have had the most knowledgeable (a nasty word, but it is meant well) speeches from those illustrious in the world of broadcasting, and I am to be followed by one who was chairman of the IBA; and here am I, coming in to bat now simply because on every point except one that has been mentioned I am in agreement with the speakers.
Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that it is on the question of advertising and the sale of airspace, airtime. I have no interest to declare in this. I have a little experience on the fringes of it but I have no title to speak on this. On the other hand, I feel that the case has to be put and I am doing so more as a trailer for the Committee stage than as a substantive speech on the subject. I was grateful to receive from the authority an interesting note through the Head of information in which it says that the authority has appointed a panel of consultants with the intention that they should become members of the fourth channel company's board, with Mr.Edmund Dell as chairman of the panel and Sir Richard Attenborough as deputy-chairman. I should like to join the previous speakers in saying what a splendid choice has been made here.
It seems to be the intention of the IBA, as I think was said by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, to leave the programming of the fourth programme to its subsidiary and to confine itself to performing the important supervisory duties imposed on it by Clause 3 so as 549to give the fourth channel a distinctive character of its own".I will not quote the duties therein imposed since they have been mentioned twice already. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in his dazzling speech, in what he said about the responsibility that the statutory subsidiary should bear. The IBA will have no easy task for it has to ensure not only that a proper balance and a wide range of subject matter are maintained in the programmes broadcast in each of the television contractor's companies' areas, but that a proper balance of subject matter is also maintained between ITV services and the fourth channel services. This is perhaps one of the most important duties laid upon the IBA in connection with the formation and inception of Channel 4. I should like to ask my noble friend whether I am right in supposing that, apart from the Welsh language services, Channel 4 services will be programmed nationally and not normally on an area basis. IBA have indicated that they hope to have the new service on the air by the end of 1981 or the beginning of 1982, and that at the outset coverage averaging 80 per cent. of the United Kingdom as a whole, with a minimum of 70 per cent. each in area, will be provided. So the fourth channel is to have a distinctive character to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by ITV, and to be nationwide.
It is natural to expect that the subsidiary will do everything in its power to ensure that programmes on the fourth channel in the first few weeks and months will be of outstanding quality. Not only will they do so for reasons of amour proper and the desire to provide as good a service as they can, but because they recognise the need to establish a firm financial base from the start. The main source of finance ultimately will he advertising. I imagine that advertisers will share my view that a sizeable proportion of televiewers will, before the new service starts, study very carefully the advance notice of the programmes (which, under Clause 5, have to be given to those who sell air time) and will calculate accordingly the comparative value to them of taking time on the fourth channel. Whether they continue to support the fourth channel thereafter will depend on the comparative value for money that is offered to them 550 by the rates charged. It is very important to recognise this.
Of course, the fourth channel is to be of a distinctive character and it is to be nationwide. Advertisers will consider the extent to which the fourth channel succeeds in appealing to minority tastes, and will seek to obtain advertising "slots" for products or services which appeal to those sections of televiewers who share those tastes. However, it is important to understand that there is no way in which advertisers can influence programme content—and that is as it should be. It is right that the subsidiary which deals with programmes should not have any control or influence over the sale of advertising time; and the Bill deliberately excludes the subsidiary board from having any.
How best can the fourth channel be sustained by advertising revenue? What the Bill proposes is that the monopoly of the sale of advertising time at present enjoyed by the ITC companies in their own areas be extended to cover advertising time on the fourth channel. This proposal illustrates how insidious monopoly can be. After all, the IBA was set up because it was felt desirable to end the monopoly of the BBC. Ever since, there has been strong competition for audiences between the BBC and the IBA. Most people think that it has been healthy competition in that it has raised the standards of the BBC and encouraged the IBA to maintain high standards as well. Now, the IBA, the anti-monopolist par excellence, is advocating monopoly as between one of the services that it supervises and the other in the field of the sale of advertising time. This is no minor matter for it relates to the sinews of competition—namely, finance. I readily concede that the two services of the IBA—ITV and the fourth channel—are to be regarded as complementary. But at least there is bound to be a degree of competition between the fourth channel and BBC 2, for example, and, for that matter, between BBC 1 and ITV 1 as well.
I shall not weary your Lordships by arguing at length the case for having two separate organisations for selling advertising time in any one independent television contractor's area; but I must refer to the two main arguments that are commonly put up in favour of a single monopoly 551 organisation. The first is that, in any case, ITV will have to subsidise the fourth channel since the fourth channel will not be able to generate sufficient revenue to support itself. That is a proposition which the ITV contractors would hardly welcome as a permanent arrangement even though they have to do it in the run-up period to the start of the fourth channel. They would, in that case, have to support the fourth channel indefinitely, yet the fact is that the ITV contractors have shown themselves most anxious to get the air-time sales franchise for the fourth channel. They will not want to lose revenue to the fourth channel—and that is what it amounts to.
The IBA, on the other hand, estimate that, once the fourth channel becomes properly established, their total share of TV audiences will rise to about 60 per cent of total audiences and that the fourth channel's share of that 60 per cent. will be between 17 per cent. and 25 per cent. That gives a total range of income for the fourth channel of between £75 million and £112 million; but the programmes will have to be good to attract such revenue. It is surely absurd to argue that revenue of this kind is insufficient to justify a separate sales force for the fourth channel, which is estimated to cost about £1 million. Obviously, the independent television contractor companies could not do it without extra cost to themselves. It is not as though there would be extra cost if they take on the sales and advertising time for the fourth channel.
The second argument in favour of a single sales force is that competition between the sales forces of the independent television contractors and a sales force for the fourth channel would lead inevitably to a ratings war between them. That would result in less total revenue and thus, I presume, to lower quality programmes. Surely this is a totally unrealistic argument. For good measure, we are invited to look at the experience of the United States of America: by all means, but there we shall see a totally different scene. In the United Kingdom we have a regulatory body, the IBA, to which all schedules have to be submitted for approval—a statutory body whose duty is to supervise TV programmes on a complementary basis. In the United 552 States of America there are a profusion of competing TV companies and the regulatory body is the Federal Communications Commission, which is prohibited by law from interfering in matters of programming or air-time selling.
Moreover, the IBA's control has to be so exercised that in a real sense the independent television contractor companies and the fourth channel subsidiary will be selling substantially different products. I must make it clear that the suggestion put up by advertisers does not mean that the fourth channel subsidiary would be selling air-time. That would be done by separate agencies, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, appointed or established by the IBA itself.
I come back to the point I made before that advertisers are seeking audiences from potential customers. It is intended that only one-third of the programmes, if I understand it correctly, put out by the fourth channel will be "popular"—in the sense that the independent TV contractors' programmes will be popular and seeking mass audiences. The kind of audiences which advertisers will be seeking, at any rate for the most part, on the fourth channel are those with special tastes, scattered all over the country—audiences which it is uneconomic for them to attampt to reach in any one independent company area, let alone in all their combined areas. No doubt in connection with the fourth channel's popular programmes the national advertisers will seek national coverage through the fourth channel, but advertisers and advertising agencies are anxious that there should be room for advertisers of specialist projects and services who cannot afford to advertise on TV at present.
I hope I have made it clear tlat there are strong arguments, both of principle and practicality, for calling into question the arrangements for the sale of air-time on the fourth channel proposed in the Bill. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to pursue this matter further at later stages of the Bill. I recognise that the present economic situation raises doubts about the level of advertising revenue in the next year or two, but I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that advertising revenue is extraordinarily resilient. Even so, that makes it even more important that sales of air-time on the fourth channel should be conducted by people solely 553 concerned to ensure the success of the fourth programme.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord AYLESTONE
My Lords, as is customary, I have to declare a small interest—I should perhaps say a minute financial interest—in an independent local radio company. In doing so, I should like to apologise to the Minister at this stage, and also to the House, because I shall not be able to stay much beyond seven o'clock this evening.
I welcome the whole of this Bill because I think that within it has been incorporated probably "the best of Annan". I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Annan, speak and to hear him gently and quietly put the idea of the local broadcasting authority to bed. It was an unnecessary setting up at a considerable expense of yet another authority to do work that is being done, and can be done quite as well, with all the requirements of programming that the Government may require, by the existing Independent Broadcasting Authority.
The Annan proposals on special programming for the fourth channel I heartily agree with, and have always endorsed. My quarrel with him and his committee was purely regarding the open broadcasting authority which, had it existed, would have cost something like £70 million, which could at that stage only have come from public funds. The Government which I supported when in office at that time thought that this was a proposal worth implementing. I did not agree then and I am glad to say it has now been put quietly away; but I repeat that "the best of Annan" is contained within this Bill.
I welcome the idea of the independent authority setting up a separate company, a separate body, under the distinguished names that have been mentioned already, to control programme content and to do what one might term the first scheduling of programming on what is to be a national channel. I say the "first scheduling" because there must always be an overall view of the content of the fourth channel in relation to ITV 1 so that you can get complementary programmes which will not compete with each other. It is right that the IBA should take upon themselves that function, as indeed they will do. 554 The content of the programme, as I said, is complementary and should include all the specialist things which people feel have been missing from both the BBC channels and the one ITV channel.
It is always very difficult to find out what these special programmes are. They are usually referred to as "minority programmes". I remember once having an argument at a meeting about what was felt to be a "minority sport". Someone who went to a pub locally and played shove ha'penny felt there should be television coverage in the pub for that particular sport. That is a minority interest and I do not think, even with a fourth channel, we can get down to quite that depth of minority sports; but there is a great deal that can be done. The proposal that programmes at first in the main should be provided by the independent programme companies is correct, because I doubt very much whether in the early stage there will be sufficient independent producers—and I quote the words of the Bill—…to produce programmes other than programmes from IBA contractors".There are, of course, many independent producers producing programmes, but whether there are enough remains to be seen. I hope it will grow and extend beyond the creation of drama to include such things as children's programmes, preschool programmes and educational programmes on the fourth channel. Earlier today during Question Time the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked whether there would be any educational programmes on the fourth channel. I think that perhaps your Lordships will not mind if I remind the House—I think it has been done before and that I have done it—that the first school programmes in this country were introduced to television by the independent body, by independent contractors, and not by the BBC. I have no reason to think that any aspect of programming will be omitted. In fact, it is the IBA's duty and the duty of the new bodies to see that that is not so.
I have another proposal, which may be considered a little revolutionary. Why not assist the BBC by purchasing for the fourth channel some of the best BBC programmes that have been transmitted over the last five or 10 years? Programmes are extremely costly, costing 555 many millions of pounds, especially historical series. I shall not mention any particular programme. But why do the BBC not sell them to the fourth channel, as will the independent producers and the independent television contractors? If the BBC would accept money made from advertising—and I know it is a little difficult for them—it would help them. Whatever they may feel about that, they sell their programmes in America, and in many other parts of the world, where the income for television comes, at least partly, from advertising.
The IBA's overall duty of scheduling is so very important, because it is only in that way that you will get the correct mix and the correct balance. The whole programme for the fourth channel will be extremely expensive to start with. The existing programme contractors—I say "existing", but perhaps I should say existing at that time, because before the end of this year some of the existing contractors may be just memories; I am sure that the IBA will not make changes for changes' sake, but they will unquestionably make one or two changes—will have to provide the money for the fourth channel and for the transmission of its programmes. It will be a particularly heavy burden.
We are told that the national broadcasting hours for the fourth channel may be something like six at first, and I imagine that the IBA will require a strict number of minutes only for advertising—probably six per clock hour, as at the moment. If that is so, it will take the programme contractors, whoever they may be, all their time to find the money to pay for the fourth channel. That is in the early stages and I think it will improve. Of course, the Government themselves may lose a little of their advertising revenue in the first years, when the programme contractors are having to provide money for the fourth channel. So the burden will be a pretty heavy one.
It is probably worth recalling—one hears this so often—the colossal sums of money that are made by programme contractors. There is no doubt that some of them have made a lot of money. I shall never forget the famous words used many years ago by a former Member of this House, now regrettably departed 556 from us, about "a licence to print money". But it was no longer so after that, because the Government slapped on a levy, which has increased and increased. I think that the current take for the Government is something like £50 million to £60 million a year in levy, which is in addition to normal taxation.
A few weeks ago, in reply to a question in this House, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe elicited the information that the programme contractors pay to the Government in corporation tax—that is, normal taxation—and levy something like 80 per cent. of gross advertising revenue. So it will not be easy to finance a Fourth Channel. Nevertheless, I think it can be done, with courage, and will be found to be worthwhile continuing in that way.
I should like, in this strain of talking about the financial situation of programme contractors, to mention something that is not generally known. But, certainly, within the last 10 or 12 years, three of the independent television contractors have been on the verge of bankruptcy and had to be helped out. They are not in that position now; they are in a much happier financial position. But that was the position within the last 10 or 12 years. So that, so far as the Fourth Channel is concerned, I welcome it and I am quite sure that it will be a success.
I should like to turn now, very briefly, to the proposed Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which I also welcome. In doing so, I pay tribute to the former bodies, one set up by the BBC and known as the Three Wise Men, and one set up by the IBA to look at the question of complaints about broadcasting. They did an excellent job, but you could not do the same kind of job if you were set up by the authorities, the BBC and the IBA, as you can do if it is a statutory body which is set up, as this new one will be, by Act of Parliament. The findings of such a body which is looking into complaints will be much more acceptable to the public, if they realise that they come from a statutory body.
I understand that the complaints are to be made in writing, which, too, is very important. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission will have full authority to see scripts, to hear tapes, to watch video records and to send for programme 557 producers and, if necessary, programme contractors, or whoever may be making the programmes. As the noble Lord said in introducing the Bill, the Commission will be restricted to looking at "unjust or unfair treatment" of complaints from individuals. Here I have one or two points on which I should like some elucidation, although I regret that I shall not be here to hear the winding-up speech and shall have to read Hansard in the morning.
I should like to ask the Minister to say, when he comes to reply, or perhaps to tell us at a later stage, whether a managing director of a company would be regarded as an individual, who could bring a complaint before the commission, because he felt that his company had been maligned in a television or radio programme. Or, perhaps, if a diplomat felt that his country had been unjustly treated, could he bring a complaint to the commission as an individual? We have had experience over the last few months of a programme—I shall not mention it by name—that caused a lot of distress in some countries. Would it be in order for a representative of that country, a diplomat or someone else, to take a complaint to the commission? That is the kind of question that one will have to ask, because in the number of things that they will have to consider they will be somewhat limited.
I am glad that the whole question of programmes generally is excluded from the review by the complaints commission, because the words in the main Act, that programmes must conform to "good taste and decency", are never very easy to define. Who would like to define, as the members of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the BBC have to do, what is good taste and what is indecent? I suppose that we each have our own ideas. We could each have a go at it, but I doubt whether, finally, many of us would agree. It is the old point about one man's meat being another man's poison. But that is excluded and the normal programmes will continue, and it will be the responsibility of broadcasters to see that good taste and decency are adhered to. I hope that the existence of the Commission will not jeopardise what is known as investigative journalism. That is something which is so very valuable which the BBC and independent television contractors do in investigating a particular problem. They 558 may get some complaints about it, but that is fair enough if an individual feels that he is being maligned. They will perhaps have to be a little more careful with these programmes, but I hope that they will continue to make them because they are of extreme value.
We are told that the commission must not consider a complaint where legal action is possible. One cannot always be sure where legal action is possible about a complaint. But what would be the position if the Independent Broadcasting Authority, having listened to a complaint from an individual, found in favour of the individual and against the programme contractors? Is legal action against the programme contractors then possible, arising out of the complaints commission? One will have to look at these problems at the time, and think very carefully.
I have only one point to make on the composition of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. That is its size. The Minister mentioned a membership of three. It would be better, perhaps, if there were a quorum of three and a membership of five. Some of us have had experience of very small committees. I am never in favour of large committees. Personally, I like committees of one, but that is the wrong thing to advocate. But five people, with a quorum of three, would probably be the right answer in this case. It is to be a quasi-judicial body. I hope that they will be aware of pressure groups. Pressure groups will be ganging up on them every time they are looking in.
Finally, the Bill gives to the IBA a life of 15 years. I think that this is right. At the end of eight years, the programme contractors, be they television or radio, will have their franchises readvertised. They may reapply and they will be looked at again. So far as television is concerned, I think that this is right. However, I am slightly worried about radio because 44 independent local radio areas have been approved by the Government, and something like 25 to 30 are already on the air. Therefore, as we near the end of the first eight years some of those independent radio contractors may have been on the air only for a matter of two or three years. It would be grossly unfair, after the expenditure of that kind of capital, if they were to fold up, simply because the eight-year period had been reached. It 559 is important in the case of radio that it should be a period of eight years from the time that they start to broadcast, or from the time that the franchise is granted to them. That would be much more sensible. Overall, as I said at the beginning, I welcome the Bill and naturally hope that it will soon pass into law so that the IBA can get on with the job.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, in rising to support this Motion it is not my intention to refer to the technicalities of administration, nor to the complexities of the financial aspects of the contracting arrangements—nor, indeed, to the problems of the Welsh language. I am not competent to do so, even if I felt so inclined. However, I think I am competent to turn to one particular problem which, as some of your Lordships are aware, has been a self-imposed concern of mine for many years. I refer to the reporting of the proceedings of Parliament to the people. The only regular, reliable, impartial channels for such reportage are the BBC's programmes "Today" and "Yesterday in Parliament". They are under the obligation imposed upon the Corporation by Clause 13(2) of the licence and agreement which reads, as noble Lords may remember:The Corporation will broadcast an impartial account, day by day, prepared by professional reporters, on the proceedings of both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament".I am suggesting that now is the time for this obligation to be applied also to a television channel.
It is necessary for me to emphasise that I am not—I repeat "not"—referring to the problem of televising proceedings. That is quite another matter. We decided long ago that this House would not address itself to such a provision before it has been adopted by the House of Commons, and that could be years ahead, if ever it should come to pass.
My reasons for taking the view that I hold are two-fold. The first reason is the failure of the newspapers adequately to provide a modicum of parliamentary information. The day-to-day doings of Parliament simply do not find a place in most of the tabloid papers. I except the Daily Mail, though they do not seem 560 to visit your Lordships' Chamber as often as they might. They simply do not find a place in most of the tabloid papers, unless there is some scandal, or crisis, or tragedy. They apparently feel compelled to give much of their space to subjects which may titillate the sponsors of the phallic worship, which seems to be the current norm.
My second reason is the fact that the BBC's radio programmes to which I have referred are, despite their excellence, broadcast at hours which detract from their availability to the general public. The ratings for "Today in Parliament" at 11.30 p.m. are absolutely minimal, and although "Yesterday in Parliament" has an audience of a million and more at 8.35 a.m., the audience is, I think your Lordships will agree, a "white collar" one. These programmes stand supreme as they are. They are the only ones where the producers do not seem to be obsessed, like so many broadcasts, with the paramount idea of entertainment.
To return to the press, the "heavies" of course do their best. In comparative terms it is a good best, although it bears no comparison to the coverage which they gave many years ago—one has only to refer to the volumes of The Times of long ago to see that—and even before the "Box" replaced the home fire as the heart of the household.
What of the "heavies" now, beset as they are by the print unions, whose lust for power and thirst for plunder is gradually, via The Times and now the Observer, choking the life out of the medium of the printed word? A leading article in The Times of 28th June is headed "The Fleet Street death Wish".
What can we do? As I see it, we should take advantage of the opportunity presented by this Bill to ensure that, so far as we can see ahead—until 1996, at any rate —every home is assured at least of one window opening on the democratic forum which Parliament represents. Just as the late Lord Egremont in 1966 said:…we ought to do more ourselves to communicate…more directly with all the people of this country whom we seek, in our deliberations here, to serve".—[Official Report, 15/6/66; col. 66.]Dr.Shirley Summerskill said only the other day in another place: 561ITV and local radio are now accepted features of our national life, both wielding immeasurable influence on the thinking and standards of our culture".—[Official Report, Commons; 18/2/80; cols. 146 and 147.]Lady Gaitskell in 1969 said:The primary object of broadcasting Parliamentary proceedings should be educational, to strengthen democracy".—[Official Report; 20/3/69; col. 1098.]Local radio, I feel, can find its own Parliamentary material, chiefly of local interest, without compulsion. So why do I say that this is the opportunity? I turn to page 1 of the explanatory memorandum to the Bill, which reads:Clause 3…requires the Authority to ensure that Fourth Channel programmes contain a suitable proportion of matter calculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by ITV; to ensure that a suitable proportion of the programmes are of an educational nature; to encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes; and to give the Fourth Channel a distinctive character of its own".Does this not fit in here? It is to Clause 3 that I shall seek at the Committee stage to move an amendment in terms which can await the conclusion of this debate, probably or perhaps to add the very words of the BBC's licence Clause 13(2), to some part of Clause 3(1) of this Bill.
The Annan Committee report dealt with this subject in chapters 17 and 18, particularly in paragraph 1762 on page 290, but without making any recommendation such as I now put forward. There is no reference whatever in the report to the BBC's obligation, to which I have already referred. Lord Annan kindly invited me to submit a couple of papers in evidence, which I did, and in one of them there is a point which I wish to emphasise on this occasion as I believe it to be so important as to be essential to my present contention. It is this. Financial reasons make it difficult for commercial television to justify reporting Parliament commercially, and therefore it cannot be expected to do it unless it is obliged to do so by statute so as to provide a handle for the operators to calculate their advertising rates and adjust them to compensate for the value of time involved in the programme. The other day I attended a meeting with some advertisers, and, sure enough, they did not seem to think much of my idea. Of course, they did not; how could they? Nevertheless, I feel that this is a matter for Parliament to 562 decide. What is more, I feel it may turn out that a regular Parliamentary programme, no matter how brief, would attract attention from a range of viewer listeners who otherwise would not switch on at all and who might well be responsive to suitable speciality advertising.
When I put down a Question for Written Answer in June, when the planners were first appointed—rather an opening shot by me—the Home Office replied, saying:It would be inappropriate to require reports of the proceedings of Parliament to be broadcast day by day on a particular television service".I was, to quote P. G. Wodehouse, if not actually disgruntled, certainly "gruntled". Why inappropriate? Does that suggest that it is not for Parliament to set down a particular requirement in a Bill if it so chooses? Obviously it is for the authority who has to operate it to decide how a requirement should be carried out, but my contention, I feel—and I trust many of your Lordships will agree—is not unreasonable and perfectly justifiable. John Bunyan's Man with the Muck-rake is for ever among us. He wrote:…the man did neither look up, nor regard; but raked to himself the Straws, the small Sticks, and Dust of the Floor".The course I urge upon your Lordships represents my sincere belief and I dare to recommend it so that we strive to buttress our parliamentary democracy by using every possible means to bring Parliament to the people. It may be an obsession with me, but I believe I am not alone. Do not let us for ever be looking down, like that man. Let us look up. Let us look up.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, when the Government decided to allot the fourth channel to Independent Television and to require that on that channel should be ensured a suitable proportion of programmes to appeal to tastes not generally catered for by Independent Television, and so on, their first task was to create the legislative basis for the channel, including those assurances, and subsequently to ensure in other ways that this original prospectus lasts. There will be some noble Lords who will recall the original prospectus of BBC 2. All I will say is that there have been great changes—frankly, changes that I have welcomed. But my point is that there have 563 been great changes from the original promise, the original prospectus.
I am really enormously reassured by the decision to appoint this subsidiary board, first consultants and then board members, and I am especially reassured by the proposed membership of that board, for a great deal will need to be done. It is one thing to devise attractive terminology to express one's objective; it is another thing in this world to secure it against all the pressures, not necessarily pressures from advertisers or from moneyed interests, but pressures from broadcasters who often get a little weary of the insistence that their work should continue in a field which is likely to attract a very small number of viewers. But my conclusion is that in so far as the legislative provisions are concerned, in regard to the proposals for the supervision of the programme, I think the Government have done as well as can be done at the outset, but they will appreciate, I hope, that a continuous careful watch needs to be kept on a development such as this.
Secondly, finance. Is that secure? Is it enough? All one can say is that it seems so—from 1982, £70 million a year from the companies; less, of course, advertising income they receive; less, of course, payment they receive by the supply of programmes, because this will be one of their expenses for deduction before levy is applied to their profits. There is just one issue that arises in my mind on the former point of the work in education to be done by the new channel. I confess my first thought was that the Open University should have been a requirement. On reflection, and particularly on studying the composition of this new board, I have reached the conclusion that that would be unnecessary, at least at the outset. But I have thought hitherto that the Open University is in a special position and that this channel, with this definition, with these objectives, should share with the BBC the putting over of these programmes. But on the second one—and I follow the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who has devoted the whole of his speech to this point—I want to say just a word about the broadcasting of Parliament. A requirement in sound, by that I mean of course the broadcasting of a 564 summary of Parliament; a requirement in sound but not in television.
I think it must be faced that the Hansard battle is over. To allow the reporting of Parliament in the printed word, to allow it in radio and to deny the main medium of communication with the people, in other words television, is a nonsense. People are entitled to know what goes on in Parliament. Of course, it must start down the corridor. I know that there are those who feel that it would involve a change in the character of the House of Commons. Well, that might not inevitably be a bad thing. They say that it will encourage the extroverts to be more extrovert than ever. Well, so be it. Such extroverts would soon find that the public reaction is not always one of sweet approval. But I do want to urge the point that the obstacles must be reduced, for the people are entitled to know what is said in Parliament and are entitled to have used for the purpose the medium which for them is the main medium of communication. I hope that sooner or later this issue will be faced and we shall have fewer of these excuses against what is an inevitable and a proper—and indeed a natural—justice to people that they should know what goes on.
There is a minor incidental point. It may be put forward by a political party at the next election that this Chamber should be abolished. Let us assume that they are entitled so to do; but for Heaven's sake let the people know what this Chamber is about before they are invited in one way or another to vote for its abolition. I want to say one or two other things, although I propose to be brief, for in general I like this Bill and indeed I doubt whether there will be very much in Committee that needs to be changed. The life of the ITA is to be 15 years, which could be extended, I think, to 20 years. That is pretty good. I sometimes wonder why it is necessary to come back even every 15 years to renew it. I suppose it is to require Parliament to look at it. I think Parliament should look at the broadcasting bodies every year on the basis of their annual report and that the clause which extends the life of the authority could even extend it to a longer period or even indefinitely. A more important point, though, is the length of the contract period of eight years. I think that could be extended. Bless my 565 soul! we had an interval, for one reason or another, of 13 years between 1967 and 1980. I would extend it even to 10 years, which would soon pass—or 12.
But let us not listen to the voices of those who say, "Cut out this contract phase". They say, "Let the authority keep an eye on companies, admonish here and there and when the admonition comes to nothing, call him up, re-advertise, invite competitors and judge it afresh". I think that would be an appalling system. In fact, one would need to make a public criticism of inadequacy before even comparing the existing company with the candidate. I believe it would be wrong—and, what is more, no one can serve in independent television without realising that as the time of the contract phase is coming along, there is—unconscious as it is, no doubt—a strange desire to improve the programmes. It is human nature. After all, there is a great deal involved. It is odd, but it is undoubtedly a fact. Let us not deny independent television that phase of brutal anxiety, for it does a lot of good, as does indeed a change from time to time.
I am glad of the decision on the complaints commission. It was while I was chairman of the BBC that the BBC made its inevitably tentative movements in that direction and independent television made some corresponding though different moves. When in fact there has been a bitter or unfair criticism or an unfair statement, it is difficult sometimes for broadcasting bodies to fit in the reply or the apology in the hope that it will reach the same audience. In fact, the habit had developed of what Harold Wilson called "a public offence but a private apology", and I felt strongly that a complaints commisson was necessary, even though for us to appoint it diminished its value. But we did get an ex-Speaker of the House of Commons, an ex-Lord Chief Justice and an ex-Ombudsman to give it the kind of respectability that, without them, it would not have had. I am sure that it is a good and a wise move, although the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, raised some very interesting problems that have to be resolved before the final proposals are formulated, as to whether, for example, the person going to the complaints commission should denounce or renounce his intention of going to the courts in parallel.
566 Money. It may be true—I do not know—that there are some companies that are spending unnecessarily high amounts on salaries or otherwise so as to reduce their apparent or real profitability, and so to diminish the levy. I do not know whether that is true. If it is true, then there are ways of dealing with it, but I would urge that the Government should not be tempted to go back to the system which obtained before 1974. Then the levy was on the income; whether you were winning or losing you paid on the income. That was an absurd method and I hope that under no circumstances, or under any excuse, will it come back.
There is another little suggestion in those whispering corridors of broadcasting. It is that the Government might be tempted, seeing the disparity of cash between the BBC and ITV, and realising that there is a loss of fair competition between them as a result of that disparity—I am told that someone is nurturing the thought that the levy should be increased so as to create some of the lost comparability. That would be a wicked proposal. The licence fee of the BBC is inadequate, and the Government should be ashamed of setting it at that inadequate level, and they should not seek to wriggle out of it by increasing the levy so as to make competition fairer without fair treatment of the BBC itself.
One last point, and I put it very tentatively. After many years of anticipation, I am told that satellite transmission of television is very near. In the next two years the satellites will be up, allowing the transmission of programmes from the United States of America, France, Germany, Scandinavia. I know that the reception will require adjustment of domestic sets. But the results of this might be profound, there might be profound results on the advertising income of independent television for a start. Think what America might seek to do by the broadcasting of its programmes and its advertising material here.
It is no good saying people would not watch American programmes. Of course, they would. They watch them in large numbers now, sadly, but true. When you contemplate the possibility of a pirate station transmitting by satellite to this country, all I can say is that that development might lead to a need to recast our whole structure, our insular protected 567 structure. All I ask for is an assurance that the Government are looking at this problem. It could be that Channel 4 will be the last steam engine and that the method will be entirely different, worldwide rather than national and insular. It is very important that a great deal of thought should be given to this before the satellites, or the rest of the satellites, go up, for I am authoritatively assured that this is now about to begin, and thinking is going on about how to invade us for commercial or other purposes. Having said that, let me say, I think this is a good Bill, of course needing to be scrutinised in Committee; but it seems to me that the new service will get off to a sound start on the basis of this Bill.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord CLEDWYN of PENRHOS
My Lords, the House will have listened with great interest to the speech we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. The noble Lord speaks with great authority; indeed, he is unique in the sense that he is the only one to have occupied the chairs of both authorities, and therefore what he says is of importance and must be listened to with great respect. I noted what he said about the future of this place, and he spoke very persuasively about the televising of Parliament. As to the future of this place, what I hear, and all the evidence points to this, is that the reputation of this House has risen considerably since people have been able to listen to the broadcasting of its proceedings; the prestige and authority of this House certainly seem to have increased in recent years as a result of the broadcasting of Parliament.
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in all that he has said. I agree that this is, on the whole, a good Bill, marred by one considerable defect. I propose to confine my remarks to the problems of Wales, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson has suggested, and to deal with the Welsh problem, Clause 20 and the following clauses. The implications of the Bill for Wales are profound and serious, and it is vital that the House and Parliament generally should realise this in good time.
The use of the Welsh language on television programmes has been the sub- 568 ject of discussion and argument in Wales over a long period. The increasing power and influence of television in our everyday lives has coincided with the continuing decline of the Welsh language. Those who passionately believe in its survival, and they are not few, also believe that the fourth channel should in Wales be devoted in the main and at peak periods to Welsh language programmes. These advocates include many who are not themselves Welsh speakers, and they include members of all political parties.
It may be helpful to an understanding of the present problem if I recall some of the events of recent years. In 1960 the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting, after taking extensive evidence, was quite clear about the Welsh position. They said:The Welsh view, held very strongly, is that…the special needs of Welsh audiences cannot be satisfied. There must, we were told, be a Welsh programme which would portray the distinctive Welsh culture…According to some, such was the influence of television that unless in the very near future enough Welsh-speaking programmes were put on in peak viewing hours the cause of the Welsh language and of the Welsh culture would suffer irreparable harm".That was 20 years ago, and by the early '70s the possible allocation of the fourth channel to Welsh language programmes was being recommended. In 1973 the Lord Mayor's Conference in Cardiff called on the Government,…to give special consideration to Walesin the use of the fourth channel. In November 1974 the Crawford Committee said:…we recommend that, whatever decision may be reached about the use of the fourth channel in the rest of the United Kingdom, it should in Wales be allotted as soon as possible to a separate service in which Welsh language programmes should be given priority".Significantly, it went on to say:The cost would represent an investment in domestic, cultural and social harmony in the United Kingdom".The next stage was reached in November 1975 with the publication of the Working Party on the Fourth Television Service in Wales—the Siberry Report (Cmnd. 6290). This report contained specific proposals concerning transmission, programme production and finance, and recommended that BBC and HTV should co-operate to produce initially 25 hours broadcasting a week in the Welsh language 569 on the fourth channel. The Government accepted this report, which was followed in March 1977 by the report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting—the report which bears the name of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. This report supported the Siberry proposals as a matter of high priority. I do not propose to quote from the Annan Report because the noble Lord, Lord Annan, himself has made a far more powerful contribution in favour of the point of view I am making than I could by quoting his report. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his most sympathetic remarks. He clearly understands the position very well.
Then in June 1978 the Welsh Language Council in its final report urged the Government to concentrate Welsh language programmes on the fourth channel, and, after publishing a White Paper on Broadcasting, declared its intention to bring the new Welsh language service into operation on the fourth channel in October 1982. They then introduced a Bill directing the Independent Broadcasting Authority to begin work on adapting transmitters. We therefore have had a series of authoritative reports over a period of nearly 20 years, all of which recommended that the fourth channel in Wales should be devoted to Welsh programmes. Of that there can be no doubt at all. It is very important that Parliament should understand that, for it is the background against which the present mood of the Welsh people should be regarded.
Then the General Election of 1979 intervened. At the time no one suspected that the process which had been commenced would be interfered with. I quote the Conservative Party Manifesto pledge, because this is the one which has, regrettably, been set aside:We are anxious to see Welsh broadcasting starting on the fourth channel as quickly as possible. We believe that this could be done more cheaply, simply, and at least as quickly if both the BBC and HTV Welsh programmes are transmitted on the fourth channel on an agreed basis under the overall control of the IBA…".After the election the new Conservative Government repeated this pledge in the Queen's Speech in these words, undertaking that they would,give active support to the maintenance of the Welsh language and will seek an early start with Welsh broadcasting on the fourth television channel in Wales".570 That was in May 1979. Mr.Nicholas Edwards, the Secretary of State for Wales, repeated that when he spoke in the debate on the Address following the Queen's Speech. But on 11th September 1979 the Home Secretary, in a speech in Cambridge, announced a complete reversal of the policy and said that it was now proposed to put Welsh language programmes on two channels, probably BBC2 and IBA 2. That is the history of what I am now seeking to explain to the House.
After the years of effort, after all the reports, after all the waiting, the promises were swept aside. The reaction in Wales was predictable: there was profound dismay and disillusionment in the Principality. It may be argued that there are people in Wales who take a different view, specifically those who fear the so-called Welsh language "Ghetto". That is to miss the main factor; namely, that after years of argument and discussion, when the Welsh language programme seemed to be within our grasp, it was arbitrarily snatched away from us and announced in an uninspiring ministerial speech in Cambridge. That was to add insult to injury.
It is difficult to know what caused the Government to reverse their policies and to subject the Welsh people to so grave an affront. It may have been the financial implications. Mr.Nicholas Edwards accepted that these were an important factor in a speech which he made in another place on 16th July. I have never been clear in my mind that this would affect public expenditure and I think that the position should be made clear once and for all. As I understand the position, the fourth channel would have been paid for mainly out of the recycled levy—that is, the tax rebated to the independent television companies. Some money would come from the licence fee, but obviously that would be an insignificant amount. Even so, the financial aspect is incidental to the main complaint that I have to make to the House this evening.
The Government have recently made a number of new proposals in response to the growing feeling in Wales. These were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in the reasonable speech which he made when he moved that the Bill be read a second time. I warmly welcome 571 many of these new proposals, especially the additional money which the Secretary of State announced on 24th June would be made available towards promoting the language. His statement about a new Welsh language television committee to review television programmes in Welsh must also be studied carefully when it comes before us, probably in the form of a new clause moved by the Government in Committee.
I was rather disturbed by what I thought the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said during his opening speech when he referred to a paid official—a scheduler—responsible for the programmes and taking the chair at the meetings to decide what the mix of Welsh and English would be. Perhaps that is more of a Committee point or a point which can be gone into during the later stages of the Bill.
I have the impression that the Secretary of State, Mr.Nicholas Edwards, has a real appreciation of the importance of the Welsh language and that he is seeking to repair the damage done by the reversal of policy. That again is to be welcomed. In Wales today we must build bridges and not tear them down. I believe strongly, however, that the Government must return rapidly and fully to their former policy. In a mixed programme Welsh will remain a secondary language; it will take a second place to the needs of the network and there will be constant pressure to demote Welsh language programmes to an inferior viewing slot. Welsh-speaking viewers will not have a channel which they can regard as their own and will have to switch channels frequently to watch programmes in Welsh. Why should we have to do that as regards what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, called the most ancient language in these islands?
Again, and regrettably, non Welsh-speaking viewers will feel deprived and irritated by the presence of Welsh programmes on their channels. They will tune permanently to programmes from England and will not receive Welsh news and other features about Wales. That could create a dangerous sense of alienation and could widen the gulf in Wales which we should all be seeking at this time to bridge. But once the new proposals are operating they will become 572 entrenched. It will not then be easy to establish the fourth channel for Welsh programmes. Once the machine has started moving it will move inexorably and there is not a noble Lord in this House who knows how difficult it will be to extricate ourselves from that position once the machine has gone some way.
I have been deeply saddened by Mr. Gwynfor Evans' statement about his intention to go on a hunger strike. He and I have argued and debated on public platforms, and in another place, for a very long time. I have great respect for his integrity and dedication to his party and to his country. But I believe that he is deeply mistaken, for the consequences of his action could be incalculable. We must fight with the weapons which are available to us within the democratic process. There are times when we can feel frustrated beyond what seems tolerable, but I think that it is right that we should persevere. I think that I know how Mr.Gwyfor Evans feels at this time. He sees the Welsh language and the way of life he treasures declining slowly, and he has concluded that some action must be taken, if necessary by him personally, to seek to stem or to halt that decline if he possibly can. The Government's reversal of policy, on what he regards as a major issue, symbolises for him the cold disregard which Governments feel for Wales. That is what he would say.
I make a plea to the Government and to Mr.Gwynfor Evans: there is another way for both to follow. The Government, for their part, have the opportunity to be magnanimous, and I hope magnanimous enough to reconsider their position. That would be an honourable course. It is a small step, but it would bring a harvest of great goodwill in Wales. I hope, too, that Mr.Gwynfor Evans will reconsider his course of action and decide to serve Wales in constructive ways for many years to come. The opportunity to find some common ground for agreement will arise during the Committee stage. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about this. It is not yet too late for the Government or for Mr.Gwynfor Evans. Both must perhaps give a little on the way towards a settlement. But find a settlement we must because it would be a major tragedy for this country if Wales were to slide into further discontent and dissatisfaction.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord BIRKETT
My Lords, I, too, must apologise for being unable to hear the start of this debate and for being unable to stay to the end of it. I hope that I shall be forgiven more readily because what I have to say this afternoon is so exceedingly short. However, before I put in my pennyworth I must take a moment of your Lordships' time to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, over one comment that he made.
Your Lordships will recall that he described our much beset film industry as totally defunct. To say that straight on top of a Bill which is to restore the National Film Finance Corporation, and in fact to do something to rejuvenate the film industry, seemed a little unkind of him. I realise that he used the phrase as part of a lesson to us all of the grim consequences of intransigent behaviour on the part of unions, and those dangers are, indeed, only too carefully to be regarded. Nevertheless, I believe that "defunct" is going too far. We know that one swallow does not make a summer, but how many films do we have to make to have an industry?
However, as regards the Bill before us this afternoon, I should like to say that I too, of course, welcome it and look forward enormously to the increase in variety which it will provide for us all. I am rather happy that economic circumstances will make it very difficult to provide much more variety beyond the fourth channel. I think that it would be dreadful if we ever achieved the degree of variety that they have in the United States, simply because it is so various that it is impossible to choose and one becomes not a selector of one's entertainment or information but a mere button pusher. However, as I say, I think that economics will defend us from this danger without our really needing to push the matter.
I have only one real complaint to make of the Bill and it is a complaint which echoes something which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said earlier. I think that it is unwise in the matter of advertising to place the selling and control of it into utterly the same hands as those in which it is currently placed for ITV. It is already a monopoly and there are many advertisers who believe that that monopoly acts quite against the best interests not merely of the advertisers themselves, but 574 of the public in general. I shall not weary your Lordships with recounting the various abuses which they believe to exist, because they are small and detailed and in many cases difficult to prove. Nevertheless, it is a monopoly and to perpetuate it at this stage would, I think, be a mistake. I hope that the Government will look very carefully at that before going forward with it.
I am well aware that, in the matter of advertising as in the matter of programmes, too great an injection of novelty and independence is to be feared simply because it may perhaps not be able to be relied upon. I have been an independent producer all my life and I welcome the thought that independent producers will be given a much bigger share of the cake this time round. But I am not so blind as to realise that a cake composed entirely of independent producers might be construed as a cake composed only of crumbs, with nothing to hold it together. So I see the danger of emphasising too much the merits and the benefits of independence.
But in the case of selling advertising time and the controlling thereof, which, after all, is not only for the advertisers but for the public in general, to leave a very major slice indeed of the control and, therefore, the running of that programme in one hand, or in one pair of hands, if you prefer it, is seriously unwise, and I hope that the Government will reconsider it.
§ 6.21 p.m.
The Earl of BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to make a few very brief remarks so as not to be too repetitive. As a director of one of the very first, original independent television companies 25 years ago—and I served with them for nearly 10 years until I joined the Government—and as, like the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, a small minority shareholder in a local radio station, I am of course, like many others, very interested in this Bill. For several years I was also chairman of the Institute for Educational Television, on which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, also sat; and I have always been an advocate of more educational television, and expecially a university of the air, which I proposed in your Lordships' House some considerable time before Sir Harold Wilson or the noble 575 Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, took up the idea and successfully brought the Open University into being.
Like other noble Lords, I think that the Bill is just about exactly right and that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my noble friend Lord Belstead should be complimented on it. I shall confine my brief remarks to just a few points; first, the question of the levy, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton; and, secondly, the question of programmes, education and the reporting of Parliament.
First, as we know, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hill, told us, until 1974 the levy was based on revenue. At that time the then Government accepted the argument that this method disrupted the planning and production of programmes, particularly when the level of revenue could not be confidently predicted. It also led to frequent changes in the levy rate, and gave the Government perhaps too little when times were good and the companies too little when times were bad. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, agrees with this. Legislation therefore changed the levy to the present system of a charge against profits.
There have recently been suggestions that in current economic circumstances a reversion to the previous system would reinforce the companies' own control of costs. The arguments accepted in 1974 are, I believe, equally valid today. I also believe that any change could be damaging at a time of economic uncertainty, with the new fourth channel about to be launched. To cut down programme expenditure on ITV because the BBC is short of funds would imply that competition for audiences matters more than giving the best possible service. I think that this would be a bad reason for returning to a system which proved to be unsatisfactory.
I accept generally the idea of a levy on the independent local radio companies, but I certainly think it inequitable not to allow losses to be carried forward by new stations before they become liable to levy. It takes some local radio companies perhaps five years before they become profitable. Should they, in effect, pay a levy before that? Is this really fair?
576 I gave my noble friend very late notice of that question, but I ask it of him and I hope that he will be able to reply to it, either at the end of the debate or at least in writing.
As regards finance for the fourth television channel, we know that, under the terms of the new ITV contracts, from 1982 companies will be required to pay a total of some £7 million a year to the IBA as subscriptions to finance the new channel. Until 1982 the authority will certainly need to borrow money to provide funds for programmes as well as for the engineering required. I think that the companies will begin to recoup the heavy subscription charges on them only when the new service is operating. They should do so from the sale of advertising and from payments for any programmes that they supply. The sooner the new service is operating satisfactorily, the sooner can the yield of the levy on the companies to the Exchequer be restored to its present level, and eventually be increased.
With other noble Lords, I should like to say that I think the authority should be congratulated on the appointment of Mr.Dell as chairman and Sir Richard Attenborough as deputy chairman of the panel, with Mrs.Sara Morrison as a member of it. I look forward to the announcement of the names of the senior executives; of course, Lord Thomson of Monifieth will be a quite admirable chairman of the IBA in succession to Lady Plowden, who, if I may say so, has performed yeoman—or should I say yeowoman—service.
On education, I am glad that the authority wishes to develop the opportunities offered by the new channel for extending the scope of educational broadcasting, and I hope that the Open University will play its full part, even if not all its viewers and listeners necessarily seek to take degrees.
On reporting Parliament—and this is my final point—with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier (who is re-entering the Chamber now)and to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, I do not think that this need be a statutory requirement. I say this with great respect to them because I agreed with a great deal of what both noble Lords said, and especially 577 all the other remarks which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, made on other subjects. I am sure that there will be a good deal of it on all radio and television channels, and particularly on special occasions. We know the extent to which LBC reports Parliament outside the hours which the BBC reports it at night and in the morning. But I am not sure that much more of it would necessarily enhance the prestige of Parliament. I mean no disrespect to your Lordships. I think that many of your Lordships make speeches of very great value—sometimes perhaps of considerably greater value even than those made in another place. But, for reasons which I, belonging to this House of Parliament, would rather not specify too precisely, I am not certain that it would necessarily assist us in gaining popularity with the public.
Just before concluding—I do not think anyone has done this—I should like to dispel the illusion that the BBC, at great expense, trains producers whom the independent companies then lure away. The hard figures which I have from one of the main five ITV companies during 1979 are as follows: the total number of staff in their particular company is 1,800. They recruited in 1979, 166. Of these, only six were from the BBC, and of those six two have been on only temporary contracts. I am assured that these figures are accurate and indeed sworn on oath and fully audited.
All in all, I hope that this Bill will go through Parliament swiftly. We need a fourth channel as well as Cefax and Oracle and, above all, Prestel, which I hope will soon be available throughout the country. I find it of great value in London and in the Library of your Lordships' House. In this way television in the future should certainly be able to meet many of our essential needs for information. What will happen when satellite television comes in I do not know, but I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said on the subject. I believe that my noble friend Lord de la Warr may go into it in further detail, but it is certainly something that the Government must think about.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, like the other speakers I must apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Belstead and Lord 578 Donaldson, that I did not hear their speeches in opening this debate. I suffer certain occupational hazards which prevented me from being here today. I must declare not an interest but a potential interest, in that I have accepted an invitation to be chairman of a company which is competing for the franchise in one of the areas controlled by the IBA.
I welcome the Government's determination to see a fourth television channel broadcasting in this country in 1982. Our country enjoys fine television, possibly the best in the world, but it could be better. I am sure that the fourth channel will make it much better. The present limitation on channel choice has shackled our producers and programme-makers to what is termed the mainstream; to entertainment of mass appeal always striving to win the ratings battle by appealing to what?—the lowest common denomination in popular taste.
That is no bad thing in itself, but it inevitably stifles innovation and invention. That great broadcasting institution of the BBC has suffered over a period of time the fate of all institutions; a heirarchy of settled ideas, a set of traditional assumptions about the traditional way of doing things. The IBA tends to go the same way. Fixed policies, less room for adventure. The fourth channel is an adventure, and I welcome it.
I would have peferred an open broadcasting authority of the sort recommended by the Annan Commission. I have some doubts about the institutional ability of the IBA to guide the fourth channel. But then half a loaf is better than none, and as far as it goes, though it does not go far enough, I welcome this Bill. I shall not say very much about it at this stage in its progress. I simply wish to highlight a few things which it fails to do, or could have done better, in the hope that my objections may cause the Government to think again; or at least that it should be taken up in more detail in another place.
Let me therefore turn to some sections of the Bill, and in particular I want first to come to the question of Wales. I do not want to reiterate the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. Suffice it for me to say that I agree with every jot and comma of what he had to say. In my experience, there is nobody closer to 579 moderate opinion in Wales than Lord Cledwyn. We have never been in the same party but I appreciate that he is close to the heart of informed Welsh opinion. I have no doubt that the Government should rethink this whole policy. Not because Mr.Gwynfor Evans is threatening to go on hunger strike unto death. The reason the Government should rethink this policy is that they are opening up a potentially enormous political chasm unnecessarily.
They should revise their policy because they gave a solemn pledge to the people of Wales. There is a cynical view experienced in Wales that this pledge was very lightly put aside, and needlessly put aside. I think also they had considered the policy. Wales is a country where one-fifth or so of the population speak Welsh, and that section of the population also speaks English, and four-fifths do not. But, of course, the fifth that do—and I count myself among them—cherish the language enormously. There has been no greater threat to the existence of the Welsh language and culture than the influence of the mass media. The Elizabethan or Tudor monarchs may have tried to stamp out the Welsh language, and neither this Government nor any modern Government have tried to stamp it out, but it has been stamped out more effectively by the effect of the mass media. That is why it is so important that the Government should adhere to their pledge. I do not think I need say anything more about it at the moment. This will be developed in other places, but the Government should think hard about this matter.
The second criticism is that the board should be independent of both the Government and of the IBA. It would be accountable of course to the new broadcasting complaints commission set up by this Bill into the law of the land, which I shall refer to in a moment. But to make it, both in theory and in practice, a mere subsidiary of the IBA is to give to existing interests in commercial television too great a behind-the-scenes influence in its operations.
Thirdly, I want to say a few words about the legal restraints on broadcasting, and the duty placed upon the IBA under the 1973 Act. It is right if I give simply one example. A "World in Action" 580 documentary about corruption in the secret service was delayed until every single detail of the allegatons made in the programme had been published in the newspapers and raised in Parliament. This is one of the deficiencies from which we suffer because of this duty placed on the IBA.
The Annan Committee thought that these powers of the IBA should be relaxed for the fourth channel, and that programmes should be subject only to the general law of the land. I am in favour of this. May I put my personal view on what I think the fourth channel should do. I hope to see on the fourth channel a true market place of ideas in which programmes which are committed to particular viewpoints are aired and made. I want to see programmes occasionally on the fourth channel which shock; which jolt me, for example, out of my own complacency about my own profession or about the law generally; or which jolt me about particular social conditions. I want to see Welsh television producers presenting programmes which are unashamedly commited to their ideal of the cause of the Welsh people. I want to see black producers producing programmes giving their views, and making no bones about the evils of racial discrimination as they see it.
I should, in short, like to see the fourth channel develop some full-blooded television, not diluted by Government spokesmen or the ubiquitous defenders of the status quo. I regret that this Bill has not taken up the Annan recommendations and lifted the hand of IBA censorship from the fourth channel. The law of the land controls the author, the playwright and the film-maker. It should be quite sufficient to control the fourth channel programme, in any event from gratuitous excess, subject to a further remark I have to make.
The new Broadcasting Complaints Commission is a new body which is likely to fall into an old trap. There is no doubt that some form of redress is required for those who are unfairly treated by television, and I welcome the establishment in principle of this tribunal and the extension of its remit to include the three existing channels. But at all cost one must avoid the danger that it will become simply a Press Council of the air, a tooth- 581 less and paper tiger derided by those on whose respect it depends. I fear that, as the Bill stands, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission has all the hallmarks of hot air, and I will indicate three deficiencies as they appear to me.
First, it is to sit in secret; a complainant will not have his complaint published, except to the extent and in the language and words the commission chooses to adopt in its report. Nor will the broadcasters be able to make public answer other than to the same extent. We are here dealing surely with questions of elemental justice, and justice must always be done, if it is to be seen to be done, in public—not in this case by a court, and I should hate to see these proceedings turned into a legal beanfeast—and by a tribunal which can be seen to be listening to the evidence put before it and can be seen to be adjudicating fairly.
My second criticism is that the commission must have some power to discipline if it is to be at all effective. The only power it has under the Bill as drafted is to order a television station to make a televised retraction. That may be sufficient in certain cases, but it will be impossible in other cases to make a retraction without giving further credence to the original wrong. Consider, for examples, certain libel apologies in the magazine Private Eye; a classic example of quasi-legal "tongue-in-cheekery". Suppose an injustice takes the form of a long visual programme full of impact. Is the commission to have the services of a camera crew and a new and fresh director to make another long programme setting the story straight? The answer is, No. There must be occasions when a power to fine or order recompense is the only effective way of correcting the original abuse.
It is no use saying, especially to a lawyer who practices sometimes in the libel courts, that a complainant can sue for libel. There is no legal aid available for defamation and only the very wealthy can afford to gamble massive legal fees and wait for years before a libel action comes on for trial. The commission should, in my view, serve as an alternative to libel proceedings. In fact, I go so far as to say that the present situation of the libel law is so iniquitous that I should like to see a complaints procedure 582 established entirely with regard to television and replaced by this commission with power to hear complaints speedily and to offer suitable remedies.
My third criticism is that, as the Bill is presently worded, the commission could decline to hear any complaint which might be made the subject of a libel action. The concept of libel is so all-embracing that most allegations of injustice and unfairness could be pursued in the courts if the victims have the necessary wealth and patience to continue with an action. I do not think the prospect of legal action at some time in the future should be any basis for the commission declining to hear a complaint. This section of the Bill needs further careful thought and attention if it is to serve a valuable purpose.
I wish to make one last suggestion. I have criticised the IBA for a number of its controversial decisions and have given one example which I think was particularly unfair to the programme workers —I could recite others, but I have deleted them from my speech—and I could cite others concerning the BBC. Against those decisions, programme-makers at present have no redress. Why not give the programme-maker, male or female, the right to complain to the commission against unfair or unjust treatment by the IBA, BBC or an independent television company? These are all great monopolies and they have really been placed above any accountability to their employees and contractors, and I think it is time to modify that privileged status. In my view, the IBA should be required to defend its decision, for example, to delay the "World in Action" programme on corruption in the secret service if it has a good defence. It could be considered by the commission at the behest of the "World in Action" team. Similarly, the BBC has declined to show films made at considerable public expense and has declined to give reasons.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission, as the Bill stands, will investigate complaints only about programmes which are shown, and I hope the Government will at least consider enlarging its terms of reference to enable it also to consider complaints about decisions not to show. We should take this opportunity of recognising the fact that the viewing 583 public can suffer, from decisions which do not permit them to view, as much as they can suffer from decisions which permit them to view. Those are criticisms I make in outline but which I shall seek to develop in Committee.
The fourth channel is an exciting prospect and it could be an important development in our country—the development of television to serve minority, and even majority, interests presented in a thought-provoking and fresh way—and we must not be afraid of the implications of having a television channel which is not controlled by "Auntie BBC" or by the constraints which have been placed by the IBA on the existing companies. It is a great challenge, but unless the Government heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, in relation to my country, then the prospects of any peace resulting from the introduction of the fourth channel in Wales will be very remote indeed.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord RAWLINSON of EWELL
My Lords, some 20 years ago I was chairman of the Conservative Party Back-Bench Committee on Broadcasting and got involved in the politics leading up to the allocation of the third channel. I emerged from that with a very healthy respect for the resourcefulness and, putting it politely, dedication of senior officials both of the BBC and the companies on their determination to get what they wanted, and the scars still remain upon me.
I welcomed then a third channel and I welcome even more a fourth channel because every channel weakens the monopoly of a very great power, and it is very great power which has been created in the hands of those who control this medium. And, of course, that power is not really in the hands of those senior officials; it is basically in the hands of the producers, and the producers of the different programmes cannot but help reflect their own attitudes and views about affairs, about life and about politics. They cannot avoid it, and I am sure there are many noble Lords who have gone for interview at the various broadcasting authorities and have encountered the programme where you can see when you are going to get the half-volley and when 584 you are going to get the yorker, and, generally, the interviewer cannot help his his own attitude.
We have become a nation of television watchers on a much wider scale than anywhere else in Europe, and we have done so because of the technical excellence, indeed brilliance, of broadcasting. One has only to compare our broadcasting with that of the United States. Even the advertisements in this country are far superior to those which appear in American broadcasting. It is due to this remarkable excellence that there has developed a total habit of television watching—far more so than among many other peoples of the world.
Of course the producer has a captive audience—so unlike the producer of a film, who has to rely on commercial success to stay in business, or the director of a film, who will not receive another assignment if he is not successful. The situation may be a little different with the subsidised theatre, but it still depends upon actual results, whereas the producer of the television programme is not subject to the same pressures. It has always seemed to me that the sanction with regard to this monopoly should be more channels and the freedom to choose. So I am indeed glad that we are now to have the fourth channel.
The presentation of politics on television has been a matter of concern and debate from when television was first widely watched. We all know that television has taken over from the traditional media and indeed the institutions involved with the debating of politics. I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. I have always believed that Parliament should be televised. It is absurd to deny Parliament the great influence of television, thereby transferring to the studio the real debate which influences the public. Long gone are the days of Gladstone in the Cambridge Corn Exchange, where the gas lamps caught fire when he was probably in the second hour of his speech. No one noticed, so magnetised were they by the great old man. Now one has to have the ability to appear skilfully and persuasively on television. Good heavens!, my Lords, think of Lord Chancellor Brougham getting down on one knee to beg this noble House to pass the Reform Act. 585 Can your Lordships imagine that happening nowadays? There was an idiosyncratic performance on television the other day of Marshall Hall, when in the forensic style of those days he really did point to God's Western Light and call for the jury to let the Western lady free.
Now all of that has totally gone, styles have completely changed. It is the power to debate on television that matters. To deny television coverage to Parliament, which has the power with regard to politics, is utterly absurd. I hope that the televising of Parliament will come, but I realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said, it must come down the corridor first.
Furthermore, with regard to politics, it has always seemed that the producers are so trained in entertainment that their idea of a good political programme is a quarrel. There must be a confrontation; otherwise there are no fights or excitement. I recall the terrible trouble that Sir Frederick Ayer and myself got into when we were debating the death penalty. We had come a long way, and we were given two minutes each. We were very angry with the producers, who became disappointed because we had a short and reasonably civilised discussion. That was not what the television people wanted. It seems that there have to be current affairs spectaculars, with one person shaking his fist at another. Television people believe that this is the most effective way of presenting political debate. I do not believe it.
Interviewers overseas seem to be able to elicit from the person whom they are interviewing his point of view. I do not know to what extent they go in for the prima donna style of interview, but I believe it to be very important that the person being interviewed be given the opportunity to project his point of view. I wonder whether we in this country will ever be able to tolerate the kind of thing that took place in France, for instance. President Giscard and M. Mitterand, when they were candidates, debated across a table for almost two hours. All of it was on television. It was an intelligent, sophisticated political debate. I cannot see any producer in this country allowing such a debate to take place on television between the Prime Minister and the Leader 586 of the Opposition. I hope that the fourth channel will take upon itself the determination and courage to present politics in a manner more civilised, sensible and sophisticated than that of the other channels.
The only other point to which I want to refer relates to the complaints procedure. I welcome this. I am sure that other noble Lords who have served in the other place had the same experience as I had. A large proportion of one's postbag consisted of letters from people complaining about something that they had seen on television. The complaints were not so much about bias or balance, but more about a matter of taste. There were continual complaints about the erosion of standards; and there has been an erosion of standards. Of course one becomes accustomed to hearing foul language if it is used all the time; but think of the shock of it, my Lords! Remember the famous Bernard Shaw word which at the time caused such a sensation. Such language becomes ordinary, common coin of the realm. Because it is used so often it becomes totally acceptable. Yet it causes deep offence to many people because it has been imposed upon the nation by the few who say that this is how people actually speak. I always wonder whether in fact they do so much. I know that in the control room of a television studio it is thought that they speak in this way, and perhaps they do in the barrackroom. But most people do not use much of the language that apparently must be used in order, it is claimed, to convey a realistic impression of modern conversation.
When as a Member of Parliament one passed on complaints, one always received a bland rejoinder to the effect that one was the only person who had written. One was told, "We have had very few complaints". Always the implication was that one's personal views were totally out-of-date, and that one was stuffy and unrepresentative. That made one smile a little, in that one had at least been elected, whereas the person writing the letter certainly had not. Therefore, I always advised my constituents to write direct to the BBC or to ITV in order to make their complaints, since the volume of complaint is based on the flood of letters.
587 I hope that the Complaints Commission will be very robust in directing approved publication of its findings. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that no newspaper will accept that it should put an apology on page one, even where it is paying vast sums in damages. It would rather pay many more thousands of pounds than print a withdrawal or apology on its front page, or give it the same prominence as the original article. I believe that there can be a very effective sanction indeed if the commission is robust enough to demand sufficient prominence and give real directions with regard to publicising, including publishing the names of those responsible for the programme that has been found to have offended. The name of the producer should be set out where the commission finds that there has been an offensive presentation. With great respect, I do not agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, with whom I usually agree, that you could introduce powers to fine. I do not believe it is that. I think that those who are going for defamation will go for defamation, and will hope to get, and will get, very substantial damages. But it is the offensive, the tasteless, that I think this power will in fact be effective to meet.
On that, I have the greatest respect for (as other noble Lords have said) the broadcasting authorities. I think the BBC sound, both in music and in drama, is one of the most remarkable productions that any nation has the privilege to enjoy. I read the other day (I have no doubt many noble Lords saw the report) of the child who preferred sound because, as the child said, the pictures were much better. So I think the system of broadcasting under authorities, which is a sophisticated system, requires sensible handling. It requires officers of the calibre of my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton or the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, to be in charge of those authorities; and I have confidence that their successors will carry out their task, too. It has worked, and I think it will work now that we have a proper commission with a proper complaints machinery, and, as I have said, I hope it will act on them with determination and with robustness. My Lords, I certainly welcome this Bill.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord WILLIS
My Lords, I think I might begin by helping the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, out of a dilemma. He was worried, I believe, about a definition of good taste and decency. In the Writers Guild of Great Britain, our definition of good taste and decency is the man who would never dream of drinking a glass of vintage port without having his trousers on. That needs thinking about.
I ought to begin, too, by declaring an interest. I have interests in commercial radio and I am a freelance writer for television. In fact, I am probably one of the few noble Lords who work on, as it were, the other side of the fence. I have toiled (if that is the word) in the vineyards of television for over 31 years. Sometimes the grapes have been sweet, sometimes they have been sour, and sometimes it has not seemed like a vineyard at all; I felt like Ruth, who stood in tears amid the alien corn. But one way or another, I have enjoyed it; and for that reason and for reasons which I am going to go into in a few moments, I welcome with certain reservations the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House.
I particularly welcome the proposal to set up the fourth channel. It has been suggested that there will be not enough talent to service such a new channel. This is not my experience. The truth is that there is a whole reservoir of talent which is not being used, or is being underused, at the moment. For years there has been ossification in television, with no real expansion, and there are hundreds of talented people who feel frustrated by lack of opportunity. Paul Fox, the perceptive managing director of Yorkshire Television, has in fact said that he would be sorry to be anybody aged 50 who was in the middle ranks of television at the moment, because there is simply no way of moving forward.
The opening of a new channel will break the log-jam and give fresh opportunities to writers, directors and other creative workers. It will also provide a much needed shake-up to the established ITV companies, and even to the BBC, because the fourth channel will have to recruit its key personnel from both the BBC and ITV, and the vacancies thus created will accelerate the promotion 589 of those who have been waiting in the wings.
I hope, however, that the IBA will not see the arival of Channel 4 as the answer to all the problems of ITV. I admit that I have a small vested interest here, but nevertheless, even if I had not, I would still say that a shake-up at the very heart of the ITV network is urgently needed. The same people have been in charge of ITV 1 for too long. They have done a good job, but it is time that some of them, at least, moved sideways to give way to others with a fresh approach and new ideas. We ought to say something new, in new ways, as the Annan Report said, on ITV 1 also; and, as I shall show, unless we do that the fourth channel itself will be in jeopardy.
So, with the allocation of the new franchises just around the corner, the IBA has a unique opportunity to breathe new life and fire into the whole network. I hope—I believe—that they will forsake the rubber stamp and make some bold and exciting changes when they issue those franchises. So we shall go into the decade with a revitalised ITV 1 and a new outlet for talent in the shape of a fourth channel. It is an exciting prospect for people within television, and I welcome it; and it will bring lasting benefits to the viewer.
My Lords, I have a number of specific points I wish to make, but before doing so I want to make one or two general comments. I have said that I give a qualified welcome to the Bill. My first qualification is that I fear we may be discussing a measure which is already being overtaken by events. We may be chasing a receding bus, as some of the other speakers have indicated. This Bill fixes the pattern of broadcasting almost until the end of this century, and fixes it into the present pattern. But, my Lords, technology is no respecter of patterns, or of Governments, and the truth is that we are now at the beginning, as other speakers have said, of a communications revolution which may well shatter—in fact, I believe it will shatter—our present broadcasting system and destroy many of the assumptions on which this Bill is based.
For example, the Annan Committee considered the cost of providing a 24-channel TV cable network throughout the country, and concluded that the nation 590 would not be able to afford such an investment until the 1990s. This assessment, through no fault of the Annan Committee, has now been proved completely wrong. The rapid development of fibre optics, for example, means that the capital cost can be immensely reduced. Television can now be transmitted over lines which could not carry it before. Broad band systems would give us the opportunity to introduce genuine small-scale community television. There is no reason why a set should not have 24 buttons rather than four—and it can be done cheaply.
The action committee on the film industry has estimated that if two million people paid a subscription of £5 a month for cable television, the income from that would be £120 million. If only half of those holding TV licences today subscribed £5 a month—that is, 9 million people—the revenue from cable television would be £262 million a year, or more than double the present revenue of the BBC. If your Lordships can imagine a situation in which you can have the opportunity to show first-run feature films in your own living room, and have access to the greatest talent in the world—ballet, orchestras, et cetera—you only need 3 or 4 million people and you would have an entirely new network which was paid for via cable television.
But consider, my Lords, the effect of that on BBC Channel 2 and the present Channel 4 that we are discussing. The drain of audiences away from the Channel 4 that we are proposing now would mean that the advertisers would abandon it to a great extent. So, as I say, we are discussing a situation which is going to change almost overnight. It is all on the doorstep. In the United States, cable television and pay television are now making enormous strides. Let me stress that I am all in favour of it; I want the viewers to have the maximum choice, but we ought to have these things in mind when we are considering such matters as the fourth channel.
The idea expressed in this Bill that the British people will take their television entertainment from four prescribed channels until the end of the century is nonsense; and it is made to look even more suspect by two other developments. The first is the growth in the video disc or videogram market. It is now possible, 591 as your Lordships will know, to buy video machines which will record TV programmes and play them back, or which will play back pre-recorded programmes. You can even buy a machine now which you can time to record a programme three weeks later if you are on holiday abroad. I have such a machine and I have already purchased some 30 programmes, most of them films, which I can show on my television set when there is nothing on the established channels which interests me.
Coming soon—it is already here in fact —is the video disc, something like a floppy gramophone record which will give two or three hours of recorded entertainment. It is likely that you will be able to buy such a machine to play floppy discs through your television for about £100 as the price comes down, and to buy one of these discs for £3 or £4. Soon you will be able to go to W. H. Smith or Marks and Spencer or Tesco and for a few pounds buy a selection of discs or you may be able to borrow them from a local library or radio rental store.
All this will give audiences yet another choice and make further inroads into the audiences which now watch the existing television channels. Finally, as we have already heard, there is satellite television. Today, we have Radio Luxembourg broadcasting to a large section of our population. Tomorrow—and I mean tomorrow—we will have "Luxembourg" television beaming international TV programmes to Britain and the rest of Europe. Unless we get an international agreement, there will be nothing to stop them and there will be the situation in which viewers will not talk just about the fourth channel and pressing one more outlet button on his "box", but will have available a dozen or so other channels and programmes.
I welcome this wider choice, but it seems to me that this Bill has not considered the implications of it. There is, there must be, a limit to the total amount of advertising in the system. If the existing television companies find their audiences moving off to watch their own private recorded films on discs or to "Luxembourg" television or to watching cable television, their revenue will fall and it will not be easy for them to finance the 592 fourth channel or pay the levy. That is the crucial point.
The other point concerns the implications for creative producers. New technology has thrown up some terrifying new problems in respect of the defence of copyright. Every time a viewer records a television play or a programme he is breaking the law and is stealing from the writer, the actor, the director and others. It is now popular to record programmes and invite people in to see them—all illegal! They are taking money from my pocket and from the pockets of my colleagues. We have been talking about this for a long time but we see still no defence on the horizon. The problems are monumental, but it should not be beyond the wit of man to find a way of perhaps taxing the machines at source, or taxing the video discs or the videograms or reproducing machines and putting the funds into the Performing Rights Society or some other body of that kind to distribute to the people concerned. There must be a way. This wholesale theft must be stopped.
The other general observation concerns the BBC, which has been mentioned by a number of speakers. The Bill does not purport to deal with the BBC. None the less, anything that concerns half our television system must affect the other half. I do not wish to see the BBC handicapped by lack of finance; nor do I think any far-sighted executive of the independent sector would wish that. Very serious damage is already being done to the BBC because of lack of adequate funding. The licence fee has been a political shuttlecock for too long. The Home Secretary has now said—and I was staggered to hear it—that he will not reconsider his decision to put no further increase on the licence fee until 1982. That will do great damage to one of our great national institutions. It is an alarming statement. I hope the Government will amend it. It is shortsighted in the extreme to starve the BBC into a state of debilitation as is now being done!especially in view of the extra competition that this Bill provides and the extra competition coming along in the way that I have indicated. May I beg the Government to review the situation again? Will they give some consideration to the idea that decisions on the BBC licence fee should now be removed from the political arena and that an independent 593 body something like the Boyle Commission should be set up to decide the annual level of the licence fee? Let us get rid of it as something which political parties bandy about from time to time.
The final general observation concerns breakfast television. This is not specifically mentioned in the Bill; but the authority has asked people to submit applications for a possible new service. It is my view, strongly held, and it is the view of many creative people that this is not the moment to take such a decision. I have personally found no great demand for breakfast television. If we had breakfast television now, I should either have to have breakfast in bed or on a tray in the sitting room—because that is where the two sets are. I certainly could not eat it any longer in the dining room or in the kitchen. And that would apply to a lot of people. Seriously, I have not had a single letter demanding breakfast television and saying that the whole nation is being frustrated because they cannot see Robin Day or David Frost early in the morning—or even Anna Ford. I have dozens, even hundreds, of letters regarding the fourth channel, and so on. This is a manufactured demand and we should resist it. The IBA and the television system in general has enough on its plate with the fourth channel and possible changes in ITV 1 without taking on this additional burden. Breakfast-time television will inevitably take away some advertising from the independent radio sector as well, just at a time when it is developing nationally; and may sap some finance from ITV itself. We could come back to this in five or six years. Let us resist it at the moment. I hope IBA and the Government will listen to those words.
Now for one or two specific points. The first concerns independent producers and the fourth channel. There are some independent producers who see the fourth channel as a kind of Shangri-La, a promised land where all their dreams will come true. Others see it as a kind of bank or pay-out point where you insert a script and the money comes out. It will be none of those things. The harsh reality will be more cruel. When I tell your Lordships that the real cost of producing a one-hour drama production on tape or 16mm film is £150,000 per hour (and it is steadily rising every week) you will understand the 594 problem. It means that the cost of seven or eight one-hour programmes for the fourth channel could be £1 million—and then they have only got enough for one week! That is £50 million a year if you want to do seven or eight independent programmes. That is more than half the money allocated to run the channel.
It will not be quite like that. The present ITV1 contractors will be able to supply programmes at a lower cost because they will get some return for their expenditure by screening the programmes first on Channel 1. Moreover, they will be able to absorb a modest amount of the budget as normal overheads which they must pay anyway. In this way, they will hold a definite advantage over the independents, who cannot be sure that their programmes will be repeated on ITV1 and who will have to pay the full cost of hiring studios, crews and so on. And the independents will not enjoy any levy relief. This may seem an obscure point, but it is at the very heart of this business of ITV 2 or Channel 4 being a home for independent productions. I hope it will be a point that the Government will take on board.
It will be a great tragedy if the high hopes of the independent producers were to be frustrated by this problem. I feel that the only solution is for the IBA to insist that independent programmes made for Channel 4 should have equal access to Channel 1, provided that the quality is right. It must go across the board. You cannot put the independent producers in a Channel 4 ghetto. If you do that, you doom them to live in a ghetto and give all the plums to the existing ITV 1 companies. So the independents must have equal access to Channel 1 and Channel 2 in regard to independent television. If that is not done there is no way that independent programmes can be economically viable, except for the odd case, and the whole business of supporting independent producers will go by the board.
Turning briefly to independent radio, I should like to make one or two points. Speaking personally, I welcome the introduction of the levy on commercial radio profits, but I would question the level at which it has been set, and I would ask the Government to look at this. Certainly, it seems to me that commercial radio has been placed at a disadvantage in relation to the commercial television companies. 595 For example, a secondary rental payment of 55 per cent. and a 40 per cent. levy on the remaining 45 per cent. give independent radio a marginal tax rate of about 73 per cent., but the independent television companies have a tax ratio of only about 67 per cent. if you add it all together. So a new industry which has no reserves, some of whose members have not even paid off their capital costs, is being asked to pay an even higher rate than television companies which have been established for 20 or 30 years. Therefore, I would ask the Government to look at those figures again. Perhaps the solution could be found in the timing. If the Government would agree that the provisions relating to the levy would not come into force until ILR has achieved 80 per cent. coverage of the country, we might be able to solve the problem. By that time the ILR network would have been established and our obligations to finance it fulfilled. The Government are now asking for independent local radio to set itself up, pay its own capital costs and at the same time finance expansion and pay a high rate of levy. It seems unfair and unreasonable. I am not against the levy, but I would ask the Government to look again at the figures.
I should like to make two further points. I should like, very warmly and very deeply, to support the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, Lord Hooson, and other speakers about Welsh television. The Government are riding for a fall here, creating a rather dangerous situation. I do not know whether they are aware of the feeling in Wales, but I certainly think they should take note of what was said in the debate and reconsider their attitude.
Finally, I should like, as other speakers have done, to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and his committee, who I think provided the backbone of the Bill before us and did a fine job. I am sorry, with him, that we are not setting up an independent radio authority, but perhaps we can come back to that some time. In the meantime, I should like to welcome the Bill.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Lord NATHAN
My Lords, I should open by declaring my interest as chairman of a company which is applying for a pro- 596 gramme contract, but what I have to say has no bearing on the matter. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willis, not least because he has pointed out what I believe is true—that, contrary to so much thought at the present time, there will be a great deal of discussion on broadcasting, including independent broadcasting, over the next few years. It will not be deferred until the late 1990s, as was suggested on one occasion. The reason is precisely that which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, gave; namely, that the pace of technological advance is such that the arrangements made so largely in this Bill will be overtaken by events.
That is not to say that I think the Bill is a bad Bill. I think it is a good Bill, and it is in the context of the Bill as it is that I should like to make a short point. Of course, the heart of this Bill lies in the proposals concerning a fourth channel, and the heart of a fourth channel lies in Clause 3(1)(c) which says:to encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes".This has been touched upon by many other speakers, and in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Belstead, and Lord Donaldson, in the context of drama, to some extent in relation to education, but not in relation to news.
It is in that context that I should like to say a word or two. The independent television organisation for the broadcasting of news is ITN. It has one centre of editorial policy—the editor himself. In this country, for television news there are two centres of editorial policy: the BBC and ITN. The question that occurs to me is whether the creation of the fourth channel should not be seized as an opportunity for expanding from two to three the centres of editorial policy. One is very much reminded of this by the difficulties, according to the press, now being encountered by the Observer and indeed, according to this afternoon's edition of the Evening Standard, also by the Express group, who apparently require to reduce their manpower. So the matter is imminent; it is upon us.
Television, of course, is a major source of national and international news and I suggest it is undesirable in principle that there should be only two main sources. It would be almost unthinkable that the Government or any Member of 597 your Lordships' House would accept that it would be a good thing for there to be only two major newspapers in this country. It has to be borne in mind that for many reasons television news now has as great, if not greater, an impact in the formation of opinion and the giving of information than newspapers. So I think there is a case to be made for concentration upon the question as to whether the fourth channel should be used as a means for creating a further source of news.
Of course, this is not a matter, certainly by legislation, for Government to determine. It is a matter for the management of the fourth channel. Nevertheless, it is a matter of sufficient interest to your Lordships' House to have a view expressed by the Government on this matter. It may be said, rightly, that the establishment of a fourth channel by itself imposes a substantial expenditure on programme contractors; and it may be said, further, that the expense of an additional source of news is not practicable because this would add a further burden upon them, and indeed upon others.
I believe there is a possibility of avoiding the duplication of substantial organisations like the ITN, and I believe it is possible to introduce closely-knit, smaller news organisations, perhaps somewhat on the pattern of what ITN once was. There are many ways of producing news programmes without the very heavy expenditure incurred by the BBC and the ITN. What is important are first-class journalists and journalism and a variety of editorial policy in the selection of news and its presentation. These seem to me to lie very much at the heart of the need at the present time in broadcasting in this country. Governments of both parties have accepted the desirability to maintain as many newspapers with independent editorial policies as possible. It tends to be frustrated by economic difficulties: hence the importance of increasing the number of centres of editorial policy in television. It would be interesting to know the Government's views, not just in the short term upon the introduction of a fourth channel but also, in the longer term, as to what their policy and views might be in this respect.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Lord CRATHORNE
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should also like to welcome this Bill. There have been so many fascinating speeches that I certainly do not want to reiterate a large number of excellent points that have been made from all parts of the House. I should like to touch on two local radio points, if I may. First, I must declare an interest as a director of an independent local radio station in the North-East. The noble Lord, Lord Willis and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, have raised the question of the levy, and I am told we shall be hearing from the Minister about that point.
The point that I should like to go into in slightly more detail has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and that is the question of introducing an amendment requiring the IBA to open up each local radio contract to competitive tender at intervals of not more than eight years. As your Lordships know, the current ILR system is a three-year rolling contract, and from personal experience, I can assure your Lordships that this is no mere rubber stamp. The IBA do, indeed, monitor performance very carefully and there have been four or five instances when the IBA have deferred this contract roll-over. Each radio station, at the end of each year, receives a report from the IBA—it is rather like an end of term report at school—which enumerates what the IBA deem to be the good or bad points in a company's performance. These annual reviews keep the companies very much on their toes and the threat of a contract not being renewed is very real.
My point is that the IBA already have wide powers to control radio companies under present legislation. They have flexibility to help the industry and individual companies to develop a useful and popular service. The new proposals curtail this flexibility, by imposing the need to take a specific action at a certain time, irrespective of need. In effect, some of the discretion of the IBA will be withdrawn and one can only draw the conclusion that the IBA are not considered sufficiently impartial or competent to judge in this matter. Surely this lack of confidence in the IBA is not justified.
599 Also, there is no evidence that ILR companies consider that they have the right to a franchise in perpetuity. The IBA's powers and method of operation make it quite clear that this is not so. A company has to continue to earn the right to retain the franchise and has to pass this annual test of competency. Also, the IBA keep a close eye on what the listeners think about each station and although the numbers listening is not the only yardstick, it is certainly an important one. But other measurements of attitude are available and are used. If the IBA are not satisfied that the listeners are satisfied, clearly they are going to take great note of that.
The purpose of inviting applications for a franchise which already, in the opinion of the IBA, operates satisfactorily, is surely pointless and diverts valuable time and resource from the task of providing a good local radio service, with the audience as the real losers. Think too, my Lords, of the enormous administrative burden that will fall on the shoulders of the IBA. Within the fairly near future, we will have 60 ILR stations, but just taking the 44 existing contracts these will have to be re-advertised at the rate of one a month between 1983 and 1985. One of the most unsatisfactory "spin-offs" of this additional burden on the IBA, could be to slow up the process of advertising new contracts to bring local radio to parts of the United Kingdom where it is now not receivable. This would surely be most regrettable. Several noble Lords have queried the desirability of applying the eight-year contract instead of the three-year roll-over system, which seems to work very well. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord Belstead what he has to say about this point, when he sums up what has been a most interesting debate.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, I wish to intervene for a very short time to make what many people would perhaps regard as a Committee point, rather than a matter for a Second Reading debate. However, it certainly is worth raising at Second Reading, because there are general issues connected with it which need further examination. I am referring to the questions raised in Clause 25, which imposes a requirement of provision for training, 600 and powers to raise money for training of people entering the industry. This is a welcome clause, but I suggest that it ought to have gone very much further. We could even now elaborate the requirement for training, to give something far more ambitious than is suggested in this clause.
The broadcasting industry, as a whole, is clearly a large and growing industry with a great many diverse skills and areas of knowledge, all of which can be improved and developed by training. It is plainly an industry which will get larger. Aspects of it touch high technology and new developments in technology of a very important kind. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that, for the broadcasting industry as a whole, we need something along the lines of an industrial training board, so that there could be an overall view of what is needed in training and what the possibilities are, and proper provision made to see that systematic training is introduced for this industry.
There are a number of reasons why this is of great importance. I have already said that it is an expanding and diverse industry and an industry which is making calls over a wide range of skills and knowledge. But, also, we are a very under-skilled country. I do not think we have quite woken up to the fact of how much we have lagged behind in the bank of skills in this country. It is quite clear that, in the future, we shall have to increase the stock of skilled manpower and womanpower, right throughout the country.
At the present time, there are difficulties in providing the additional training facilities which we really ought to be providing, and which are being cut back—this is a matter for another debate—and hampered for economic reasons. Here in this industry we are able to tap resources outside state resources, which could be used for the development of skills. Since this is an industry in which a considerable amount of money becomes available, it is too good an opportunity to miss to see that a higher proportion of the resources that have become available, because of the development of the broadcasting in all its aspects, should be devoted to training for development, to give more opportunity to people to acquire skills and to raise the level of performance in this growing industry.
601 I should like also to suggest that we should seize the opportunity, if we can do something more ambitious in the training field, to do something for groups of people who are singularly under-represented in the skilled categories in this country, particularly for women, many of whom are employed in broadcasting but, to an overwhelming extent, in a restricted range of jobs and at a low level, and also for ethnic minorities. My noble friend Lord Hooson said, in referring to the fourth channel, how stimulating it would be to see a black producer producing a programme which dealt very starkly with the issues of the ethnic minorities. But there is a role for the ethnic minorities inside the work of the industry.
Here is an opportunity to provide training facilities for groups of people who get extremely little training at present and who occupy to an overwhelming extent the unskilled jobs in our economy. So if we could expand Clause 25, which makes a gesture towards the need for training—I am thinking in terms of something along the lines of an industrial training board—and if at the same time we could use those sections in the Race Relations Act and in the Sex Disrimination Act which allow special training for groups of people underrepresented in the skills for which training is being provided, we would, at one and the same time, raise the level of work of all kinds inside the broadcasting industry, increase the stock of skilled manpower and womanpower in the country and do something to give help in an area which would have great appeal to the groups concerned to get into jobs of a higher level than they are likely to get unless special steps of this kind are taken to assist them.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I propose to raise three issues in this evening's debate: first, the question of the fourth channel service, secondly the issue of public meetings being held by the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the applications for the new contracts, and, lastly, the question of the taxation of independent television companies. Before doing so, I must declare an interest. I am the chairman of an independent television company. At the same time I must declare a former interest, in that for five years I was responsible to two Home Secretaries for broadcasting policy.
602 During that period of office, we set up the committee which was headed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. During the same period we received the noble Lord's report and published a White Paper on the then Government's decisions on policy for the future. I was at that time closely involved in the discussions on policy contained in that White Paper, but I must make it clear at the outset that on two major issues I differed from my colleagues. I am bound to admit that I am not an admirer of ministerial memoirs, which always seem to demonstrate the infallible judgment of the author. I do not—for that reason, if not for others—want to appear to be either smug or self-righteous. While I was a Minister there were a number of matters upon which the judgment of my colleagues will no doubt be judged to be a great deal superior to my own. Nevertheless, on these two issues I remain firmly committed to the view that I was right.
The first question is one which I do not think has been touched on today, for very natural reasons. It does not flow from the Bill. It relates to some of the proposals contained in that White Paper concerning the structure of the BBC. I did not think that those proposals were either wise or practical. Indeed, I believe that if the Labour Government had been returned last year, they would have abandoned them. The proposals had won few friends and could not, I think, have been implemented without adding immeasurably to the size of the BBC's bureaucracy, causing at the same time a great deal of suspicion and ill-will, both within the BBC and outside it.
I come now to the question which has been discussed at considerable length in our debate today, and very properly so; namely, the fourth television service. I did not agree—I very much welcome the speech which we have heard today on this matter from the noble Lord, Lord Annan—with the recommendation contained in the Annan Report, and adopted in the last Government's White Paper, for a new Open Broadcasting Authority. Certainly I did agree with the underlying philosophy behind their proposal. Public interest did demand not only that the new channel should produce programmes that were different from those appearing on the existing independent television channel 603 but also that the existing dominant power of the five network companies should not be carried over into the new channel.
It was essential that the regional companies—which often find it extremely difficult to get their programmes accepted on the network—and independent producers, a point which was touched on by my noble friend Lord Willis, should be given an opportunity to provide a broad range of programmes for the new channel. However, it remains my view that it is unnecessary to create a new statutory authority in order to achieve these objectives. My colleagues did not agree. The Government came down in favour of the Open Broadcasting Authority.
It is only right to say just this about the matter. There were, I fear, two elements in this decision which illustrate all too clearly why this country has experienced such grievous economic difficulties over the last two decades. The first was the ability of a small, skilful and highly articulate lobby to impose their wishes on a Government. I have the highest personal regard for several members of this lobby, not least Mr. Anthony Smith who I am delighted to see is to be involved in the new fourth channel service, but I believe that it was entirely wrong to accept their views.
As the House will recall, the suggestion—it is an entirely logical proposal—was that the new Open Broadcasting Authority's service should be financed not by spot advertising, the kind of advertising which is carried currently by independent television, but by a combination of block advertising (which means advertising magazines) and commercial sponsors. I, as a Minister, came to the conclusion that there was no possible way in which such a service could be self-financing. It would have required permanent support from the Treasury. On the basis of the evidence which I saw, I concluded that the Open Broadcasting Authority would cost at least £35 million a year at 1978 prices. Almost certainly, in my view, it would have cost a great deal more than that.
I did not see then, nor can I see now, on what possible order of priorities it would have been right to finance a new commercial television service on such a 604 lavish scale. Indeed, I think that our fellow citizens would have considered that a Government which implemented such a programme had, bluntly, taken leave of their senses. Do not ever forget that at that time—and, indeed, at this—the National Health Service, to take just one example, was being deprived of essential life sustaining equipment because of the need to cut back on capital expenditure in the public sector. It did not seem to me to be possible to envisage, whatever might be said in a White Paper, that in reality such a scheme could be carried through.
That brings me to the second point I want to make—it flows very much from the first—namely, the failure of Governments of differing political persuasions to maintain a proper control over public expenditure and to resist apparently attractive schemes presented to them by influential pressure groups. The OBA proposal was not of course inherently objectionable. It could no doubt have been afforded by a country such as West Germany, sustained by a prosperous economy. But in Britain—a country which had been buffeted by seemingly endless economic crises for two decades—the OBA was, in my view then, as it would be now, an expensive irrelevance.
That being so, I welcome the fourth channel proposals in the Government's Bill. I believe that they will achieve most, if not all, of the objectives of those who favoured the idea of an Open Broadcasting Authority and that the cost to public funds will be fairly limited. Now that the Bill will soon become law, I very much hope that everyone will do their best—I very much hope that they will—to make the new fourth channel service what it deserves to be; namely, an outstanding success.
I turn now to the second issue I wish to raise; that is, the question of the public meetings being held by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in connection with the new licence applications. While I was a Minister at the Home Office, dealing with this matter, I was, of course, well aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the independent television industry for this particular proposal. Nevertheless, I thought it right that companies which do in fact have a monopoly franchise should be made more accountable to their local communities. Since then I have had the opportunity of 605 attending some public hearings in Australia, and also one of the Independent Broadcasting Authority's public meetings in this country.
I do not think it right to speak at length on this subject tonight because the public meeting in my own company's area will be taking place in September; that being so, I do not think it would be appropriate to make comments on the substance of this matter this evening. However, I should like to say just a few things about them. First, they are not statutory. Clause 23 of the Bill gives the authority to hold such meetings in the future, but of course the commencement order is not going to be made until the last of the current series of meetings has been held. Nevertheless, the meetings are clearly part of the licence-granting process; that is made absolutely clear, and rightly so, in the notices which are distributed by the authority at the meetings which are taking place. That being so, I very much hope that both the authority and the Government will discuss the experience of these meetings once the licences for the new contract period have been granted.
As I have indicated, I am certainly totally in favour of giving the public the right to comment on the record of independent companies, both about their programmes and also about their financial structures. But I think it is only right to say—and, if I may say so, we have all got a fair amount of experience of this sort of thing—that there is some risk that these meetings can be packed by small, unrepresentative groups which sometimes have close associations with one of the applicants for a licence. Certainly it is true that the chairman of the IBA's meetings asks that those who propose to make any comments should declare a financial interest if they have one. But as no one is compelled to give an address or to submit to cross-questioning, there can of course be no certainty that this is done. And it is only fair to say, on behalf of the persons concerned, that they might declare that they had no financial interest and that they would have one only if their particular group succeeded in obtaining a licence. Having said that, I think it only fair to add that the meeting which I attended, which was in Manchester, was handled by the member of the IBA who presided with, in my view, the greatest skill. He dealt with 606 infinite good humour with the many issues raised and I thought he put up a very impressive performance indeed.
I think it is clearly necessary that this system should be reviewed as soon as the present licence procedure is completed. Although I know that the greatest care has been taken to devise procedures which are as fair as possible to all concerned, I believe that such a review will clearly be necessary. As I indicated earlier, for the moment at least I will leave this point alone, reserving to myself the right to come back to this issue in the New Year.
That brings me to the third principal issue I wish to raise this evening; that is the question of the taxation of independent television companies. The present system of taxation, as I think is well known, was devised by a Conservative Government and implemented by a Labour Government in 1974. Now we are told the Government are considering the matter, to see whether it should be changed once again. The critics of the present scheme argue that the present system of taxation is highly unsatisfactory. Some of the critics, I may say, come from the BBC. It is argued that the present system encourages extravagance by independent companies; that it allows them to snatch talented stars from the BBC by offering them grossly inflated salaries; and that—to take another example often given—it leads to independent companies offering to pay absurdly high prices for feature films, which, again, damages the BBC.
I should like to deal just with the two examples I have given. BBC television has a staff of more than 17,000. Last year, Independent Television gained precisely four staff from the BBC in the £15,000-plus pay bracket and also made a net gain of four staff in the £10,000 to £15,000 pay bracket. That is precisely eight people, and we are talking about a BBC staff of 17,000. I am bound to say that it does seem to me, in the light of those figures, that it is not really possible to take that particular complaint very seriously.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, this is a matter of great interest. I said something slightly in opposition to this, and I do not wish to say anything that is not right. If the noble Lord is talking of the £15,000 level, how many are there? That is the figure that matters if four were lost there. And if the noble Lord is talking of the £10,000 level, how many are there there? That is what matters to the other four. Clearly, most of the 17,000 people at the BBC are not paid more than £10,000—or are they? I do not know.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, all I would say to my noble friend is that the total number we are talking about is eight. With great respect to him—I listened to his speech with great interest—it seems to me that this particular charge really does fall apart. We are talking about precisely eight people; that is the net number in 1979. With great respect, it is impossible to take seriously a suggestion that there has been a massive outflow of talented people—this is the charge constantly put about—from the BBC to Independent Television when, as I have pointed out, the number involved is eight.
I come now to the second question; that is, the question of the price paid for feature films. Certainly I was very much concerned about this problem when I was a Minister, and I went into it very thoroughly. But I am bound to tell the House that the suggestion that Independent Television were responsible for driving up the price of feature films as a result of their reckless bidding—and that is the charge—was, I discovered, demonstrably untrue. Some of the worst examples of reckless bidding were those that came from the BBC, not in fact from Independent Television. I say this not to argue that there have not been occasions when independent television companies have behaved foolishly and have been extravagant; I have not the slightest doubt that a number of them have. All I am saying is that this particular propaganda, so sedulously propounded by a number of people, is, in my view—and I have given two particular examples to demonstrate this—singularly misplaced.
I would say only this to the Government on the question of taxation. Here I very much join the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, in what he said. I hope the 608 Government will be extremely cautious when looking at the question of taxation. Certainly I think the case for some change is made out. Taking a slightly self-interest example, it seems a little odd that the free slice, whereby the smaller independent television companies do not pay levy on the first £250,000 of profits, has remained unaltered for six years despite the fact that we have experienced runaway inflation in this period. If allowance were made for inflation that figure would not be £250,000; it would be more than £600,000. Obviously this is only one such example, but I think a case for serious examination has certainly been made out.
But I hope the Government will be very careful about creating further uncertainty in the industry. With the heavy increases in rentals being introduced, and with large subscriptions having to be paid for the fourth television service, companies are now facing massive additions in their payments to the Independent Broadcasting Authority—in some cases the total increases covering both the areas that I have mentioned will amount to as much as 500 per cent. In such a situation it seems to me to be pretty fanciful to suggest that the central problem in television is the excessive profits of the independent television industry, particularly when they pay a rate of tax of 83 per cent. or more on those profits. I think that particular criticism may well have been justified—indeed in my view was justified—when the late Lord Thomson of Fleet made his celebrated remark about it, but I do not believe it is any longer true.
The last point I want to touch on is this: I want to say a few words about the Independent Broadcasting Authority itself, and particularly about the salaries or payments made to members of that authority. Although there has been an improvement (I think in the lifetime of this Government) in the salaries paid to members of the authority, they are still, in my judgment and in the judgment of many others, miserably rewarded for the important services to the state which they carry out. At the moment the authority is having to work under immense pressure because of the present review of licence franchises. The burden of work on members is extremely heavy and, as I pointed out, the payments made to them and admitted by 609 Governments can hardly be described as generous.
It is in fact extremely difficult to recruit the sort of people one wants to carry out important work of this character. There is an immense amount of work involved in terms of reading the voluminous papers being produced in relation to these particular licence applications at the moment, when in fact they are as badly rewarded as they are. I recognise that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is in no position to do anything about that this evening, any more than I was in a position to do it when I sat in his place. Of course these matters have to be negotiated with other Government departments, but I very much hope that Ministers will recognise that if we want to attract the people whom we want to carry out this important work, they must be properly rewarded for their work.
In saying that, the only encouraging thing that I see in this Bill is that Clause 28 gives the authority the power, subject of course to the consent of the Secretary of State, to pay pensions to members of the IBA. I very much welcome that. It is an extremely important development, and it is very satisfactory indeed that we have at least made some progress in rectifying this problem that has been with us for a very long time, certainly from the days when the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, was chairman of the IBA.
Having said that, all I will do is to repeat that I welcome the Bill. I believe that on the major issues arising from the Annan Report it is right and I hope that, despite its remarkably slow progress so far, it will soon be on the statute book.
§ 8.4 p.m.
Earl De La WARR
My Lords, the fourth channel has been talked about for so long that it is refreshing that at last the necessary enabling Bill is before us. I think that the Government's plans are right and that the structure which this Bill sets up will work. It has my full support. I want to talk about a few of the wider aspects of the television scene—the problems and the possibilities—in order to help us to try to see where the fourth channel will fit into the broad spectrum of the next 10 years of television. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for the eloquent way in which he painted his broad canvas.
610 First, the problems. Not surprisingly they lie in the field of finance. It seems to me that too many people think that the two present sources of finance, set licences and advertising, are together a kind of modern-day widow's cruse which will never run dry or even low. I think that today the broadcasters themselves know that this is very far from being the case. I am sure that adequate finance from the two present sources will become more and not less difficult in the future.
So I believe that we ought to think very carefully about the third way of raising money—that is by direct payment from the viewer. It is a way that applies to all other forms of mass entertainment—be it cinemas, theatres, books or sport. As a concept, it can hardly be said to be revolutionary. In the United States subscription television, or pay television—which is the same thing—is a major growth industry. The viewer pays either for special programmes or for a special channel. In both cases of course they are free from advertising.
Pay television began on cable systems. But the majority of television sets do not have access to cable, particularly in the large cities and conurbations. So now "broadcast" pay TV is beginning to grow. There are two broadcast stations in Los Angeles, one in Detroit, one in Newark, New Jersey, one in Fort Lauderdale in Florida and many more are on the way. Security—that is the prevention of piracy—is achieved by broadcasting the picture and the sound in scrambled form, with a set-top device in the home to unscramble it and in so doing to bill the viewer.
I am very glad that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is shortly to authorise the start of some pay TV experiments on existing cable networks in this country. These can start within a few months of the green light being given. Indeed, I had a hand in pressing for them—on one occasion in your Lordships' House in the days when I had an interest to declare. They will be very valuable marketing tests as well as a much needed shot in the arm for cable.
I am also extremely interested to know that the BBC is very keen to do pay television and that they have made a submission to the Home Secretary to 611 try their own large-scale experiment, broadcasting it by satellite. I hope that the Government will treat this bold idea with the interest and sympathy which I believe it deserves. This brings me to the future of satellite broadcasting, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, spoke with so much eloquence and knowledge. The sort of satellite broadcasting we are now talking about is where a picture is thrown up to the satellite as it hovers above the Equator and is then retransmitted over a wide area, back to its own country of origin. If a British satellite of this type is thrown up it would be able to beam up to five channels which could be picked up by cable operators where cable existed, and also be received direct by the individual householder on a domestic aerial. The shape of the aerial would be that of a very large saucer about 30 inches across, albeit at a cost of £200 to £300 to each household for the aerial and its associated equipment.
I understand that the Government are now receiving, at their own request, evidence from all parties likely to be interested in the future of a British satelilte, and that it is in this context that the BBC have put in their pay TV proposals. This includes evidence from British Aerospace, who see a lot more international business being generated once Britain gets into the satellite broadcasting business itself.
The French and the Germans have already made up their minds. They will be launching their own television satellites in 1983 or in early 1984. French channels—and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, spoke about this—will be receivable in the southern half of this country. As each picture channel has two sound channels attached to it, one or more programmes could quite easily be broadcast in the English language, with profound consequences for broadcasting in this country, particularly if it were to happen that the French leased one of their channels to Radio Luxembourg to do a radio-Luxembourg in pictures into this country.
While discussion is centring on expansion in the field of broadcasting, there is another quiet revolution taking place, a revolution in which—and this is the important thing—the transmitter plays no part. This is the imminent arrival of 612 the video-disc machine, which will be on the market here in 18 months at the latest. Your Lordships will already know—the noble Lord, Lord Willis, discussed it—of the video-cassette machine which can play a pre-programmed cassette or enable its owner to record broadcast programmes for playing at a time of his own choosing. The video-disc machine, which will play but not record, will cost about the price of a medium-sized colour set, and will play what I call a visual gramophone record costing between £10 and £15, not in the early days less than £10.
This is really the concept of the book rather than the broadcast. Viewers will be limited in their choice of programmes only by the number of discs published and their ability to buy or rent them. Programmes will not be confined to feature films, although they will probably start that way. They will be educational and commercial too, such as, I suggest, mail order catalogues. Indeed, programmes that were originally broadcast could well be available on the disc too at a later date. I see the video-disc, and to a lesser extent the video cassette—because it is much more expensive—developing over the next 10 years into a mass market and thus a major contributor to the output of the television set.
There are other ways by which the television set can receive information other than off the air. The ordinary telephone cable is one of them. This technique is well on the way to developing into two-way usage, so that a housewife could receive on her screen, say, a list of supermarket prices and place her order by the use of her own remote control box. At the moment the sets that will work off the telephone cable are very expensive; they cost over £1,000 each. But in due course I suppose they will become cheaper, and this could develop into a sizeable market. Certainly the Post Office, who run this service which we now know as Prestel, think that this will happen. They are already selling their know-how to other countries, of which I think the first was Germany.
Some of these technologies will have the effect, for the first time, of removing from the Government and their agencies the control over at least part of the output of the television set. The Government will need to come to terms with this and 613 make sure that they do not stifle new developments in the name of preserving good order, but instead encourage them in the name of British enterprise.
I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Hill, that the fourth channel may be the last of the old order of things in broadcasting as we have come to know it. The next decade will produce in the field of electronic entertainment some very exciting new developments. We must all await them with the keenest anticipation.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
May Lords, at the end of a long debate one hesitates to speak for any length of time, and I shall try not to be too long in my remarks. I think that while your Lordships have given general acceptance to the Bill, we have during the last few contributions had interesting star-gazing speeches which the Government will find it rather hard to act on, not knowing the true validity of the assumptions on which these speeches have been made. In this connection we have had speeches from Lord Willis, Lord Hill, and most recently the noble Earl, Lord de la Warr. This leads me to say that Lord Willis had meant to give his apologies to the House for not staying to the end of the debate; he passed me a note saying that he had to go and toil in his vineyard.
My Lords, there have been a number of interesting proposals made this evening concerning the Bill, and the proposal made by Lord Ferrier concerning a broadcast report of Parliament was one of great interest. I think that, when the noble Lord, Lord Hill, referred to it, he in fact thought the proposal was for live reporting of Parliament, which, as I understand it, was not Lord Ferrier's proposal. There was also a very interesting suggestion from Lord Aylestone that the BBC should be able to buy programmes from the fourth channel, and that seemed to be something else which the House would no doubt like to consider when we come to Committee stage.
At the beginning of his speech my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge welcomed the proposal for a Complaints Commission. I should like to join him in that welcome. A number of noble Lords raised questions of detail about the 614 composition of that commission. In particular the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, raised the question of whether, in fact, corporate complaints should be allowed. That is a matter which no doubt your Lordships will wish to look at in Committee.
It is a useful innovation that a Complaints Commission should be proposed, and a particularly novel suggestion as regards the composition of the commission is that the dead can take a complaint to the commission. That has been referred to in some quarters as the Plantagenet point—the descendents of Richard III could lodge complaints if, in fact, Richard III was defamed—as is fairly frequent—on the television channels. But more to the point, one would think that if there were defamation of people nearer at home, not so many generations ago, then one would have cause for making a complaint. That could have implications in other areas. For example, as regards the spoken word and literature there could arise the question of whether the dead can sue. But the proposal is not that anybody should be able to sue, but rather that he should be able to register a complaint.
Of course a number of comments have been made by noble Lords to the effect that the proposed Complaints Commission is a body which has no power; it only has the power of publicity. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, suggested that perhaps it should have power to discipline. No doubt that again is something which noble Lords will wish to look at during the Committee stage. Also the size of the Complaints Commission was mentioned. There seem to be a number of forceful arguments for saying that its size should be increased from three to five members.
When the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, opened the debate this afternoon—and this, in a sense, is my specific task this evening—he mentioned that the development of independent local radio was one of the most heartening developments during the past few years. I certainly agree that that is so. It has generated considerable community involvement in a number of different ways. Also, a number of independent local radio stations have provided a great many very useful services of one sort or another for the local community. One point which 615 concerns us is that a number of local radio stations are profitable, and some indeed very profitable, and those stations should be much more accountable for the profits that they make than appears to be the case at present.
At present local radio stations pay both a primary and a secondary rental. Some are able, with the agreement of the IBA, to retain some of their secondary rental for specific projects which are of social or artistic importance. It is not the case that all independent local radio stations deal with these retained secondary rentals in the same way in their annual accounts. The accounts do not necessarily show how much secondary rental has been retained by the individual stations.
I mentioned that a great number of useful projects are paid for out of retained secondary rental. For example, as regards London there is Capital's "Help Line", and another example is Radio Orwell's "Right to Work" series. The money has been generated for these projects publicly, in the sense that it is secondary rental which has not been paid across. The public, therefore, have a right to know the extent of these monies which should have been paid to the IBA, but which individual companies have been able to keep for specific purposes.
Apparently it is not possible for the IBA to furnish details of the amount of secondary rental retained by the individual companies. One would expect the IBA to provide details and the programme contractors to be able to give details of the secondary rental payments which they have made and retained, and details of the refunds and retentions in their own accounts. That aspect of the local radio stations requires some clarification. Clause 17 of the Bill specifically makes provision for grants by the IBA to contractors for "programmes of merit". One welcomes this clause and one assumes that it will become operational for those contractors who are unable to benefit—as a number are at present—from the retention of secondary rental.
I am sure that the Government are right in proposing to amend the Bill so as to ensure that all contracts, including those concerning independent local radio, are re-advertised after a period of eight 616 years. A number of objections have been raised in your Lordships' House this evening to that suggestion. Objections were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and other noble Lords, who thought that the right to decide whether contracts should be re-advertised was a matter for the IBA to decide and not something which Parliament should lay down.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said that he was doubtful about what the period should be—whether eight years, 10 years or 12 years—but he was quite certain that a time should always come when there had to be a re-advertisement of the franchises and that a procedure of admonition was not the right way to go about this situation. The noble Lord, Lord Annon, referred to the very heavy burden that this would put on the members of the IBA and the OBA, with the necessity for 60 meetings to be held and a very heavy work involvement for members of the authority. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the fact that members of the authority were very overworked already. That is, to some extent, illusory. Although one can envisage a situation of keen competition for the franchise in Manchester, London or Glasgow, one can also envisage a situation as regards some of the smaller local radio stations where there will be unlikely to be this heavy competition and workload on re-advertisement because those will not be the stations which are generating very profitable services. As I said, I thought that the Government were quite right to insist on this re-advertisement procedure.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, raised an interesting point about the question of public meeting procedure and whether, in fact, this would be entirely beneficial. No doubt, again, this is a matter at which your Lordships will want to look further. The teletext proposals, which we come to in a later clause in the Bill, are of interest and the proposals seem broadly right, but I think that one would want to look at how these services develop over a period of time. Indeed, it might be that one ought to write into the Bill a period for review. I have raised a number of points on the Bill but, as other noble Lords have done, we on this side of the House give a general welcome to the Bill. I am 617 sure that there are many points of detail which we should want to look at in Committee.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that, with the wide range of speeches which have been made in your Lordships' House today—which are the product of a very wide range of experience which has been brought to bear in this debate—it is, therefore, not entirely easy for the Government to respond with firm announcements of action because so many points, interesting though they are, go very wide, none the less, this has been a very valuable debate because, first and foremost, it has shown a wide measure of agreement about the general character of the fourth channel which this Bill seeks to establish. Of course, it was in this that the Annan Committee showed the way and it is fair to claim that Clause 3, together with the important provision for opportunities for independent producers in Clause 4, should translate the widely-held desire to have a distinctive and original programme service into legislation. Perhaps I may embark on the very first answer which I have to give in this reply. My answer to my noble friend Lord Drum-albyn is that this is to be a national television service, but, of course, it will be for those running it and for the IBA to decide as the service develops what regional variations may become possible.
Secondly, I should like to express my appreciation for, I think it is fair to say, the wide welcome in most generous terms which has come from all Benches for the way in which the subsidiary is being set up by the IBA. Perhaps I could inject this particular remark. It is worth noting that under Clause 7(2) the general report of the IBA, which under main Clause 31(3) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament, shall include an account of the way in which innovation and experiment have been encouraged on the fourth channel. I am saying that your Lordships have given a generous welcome to the way in which the subsidiary is being set up, but Parliament will be able to ensure that the subsidiary keeps on its toes, which I am sure it will continue to do.
618 Thirdly, I should like to make a general point which has been made many times during the proceedings on this Bill in another place. It is that it is not always appropriate to make provision in legislation for everything that we consider to be desirable. It is worth remembering that two of the essential needs which were identified by the Annan Committee for broadcasting were flexibility and editorial independence. None the less, my impression of this debate is that, broadly speaking, your Lordships—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson—have welcomed the provisions of Clauses 3 and 4. It is not that the noble Lord did not welcome them, but I do not think that he wanted them to affect the IBA. He wanted to see the IBA taken away as regards control of the new television channel. Perhaps this is a matter to which we can return at another stage of the Bill.
However, I also realise that there are matters which some noble Lords—even though they may take this broad view—would perhaps still like to see spelt out rather more specifically in the Bill. If I may, I should like to refer to two. One, which was a reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and my noble friend Lord Bessborough, concerned the work of the Open University. As the Bill is designed to extend towards the end of the century, we need to avoid making over-detailed provision for particular types of broadcasting. In that context, the Government are none the less committed in this legislation to ensuring that educational programmes appear on the new service, and that is why Clause 3(1)(b) is in the Bill in addition to the general requirement in the 1973 Act for the dissemination of education. It is important for that to be noticed.
The remit of the IBA's Educational Advisory Committee will extend to the fourth channel and the IBA has already indicated that it proposes to devote about 15 per cent. of the fourth channel time to educational programmes. I understand that the Open University and the IBA are having talks at the present time, particularly about the possibility of continuing education services from the Open University—I understand that those talks are still under way.
619 The other matter which was spelt out in some detail was the point made by my noble friend Lord Ferrier, whom I am delighted to see has advanced to the Front Bench. In essence, my noble friend drew attention—and received some support from the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and indeed my noble friend Lord Bessborough—to the matter of reporting the proceedings of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Ferrier suggested that the IBA should be required to include on the fourth channel regular reports of the proceedings of Parliament. An obligation of that sort would be similar to that laid on the BBC in their licence and agreement, as my noble friend said, which, however, is more general in that it does not specify on what service, or even on what medium, the reports should be broadcast. In practice, as my noble friend said, the BBC broadcasts a regular radio report each evening and each morning, but a requirement of the kind which my noble friend suggests for the fourth channel would be much more specific than any other as to the nature of the content of the channel.
The broadcasters must have the freedom to put together a service which, in their expert judgment, is viable and worthwhile. However, I do not necessarily rule out a place for a parliamentary report on the fourth channel, though I have some doubts as to how—when our proceedings are not yet televised—television could contribute to such a report. But this is a matter to which we not only should, but I expect shall, return at the next stage of the Bill.
I spoke for a certain length of time at the beginning of the debate about the question of Welsh television. The only point I should like to make in response to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is that I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, to believe that the words in the gracious Speech about the early start of Welsh language television on the fourth channel were meant to mean—and so far as I could see did mean—that an early start should be made on the volume of Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel, and not that all Welsh language television should be on the fourth channel. In saying that, of course, I immediately admit to the noble Lord that we had changed our minds, but I think that 620 we are being honest to the words in the gracious Speech when I say to your Lordships' House that I know that the engineering for the fourth channel for Wales is a priority and that when, as we hope, the fourth channel opens in 1982 the best estimates are that the coverage for Wales will be greater than it will be for the rest of the country.
§ Lord CLEDWYN of PENRHOS
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that amount of clarification, If in fact. as he said, the Government had changed their mind by the time of the Queen's Speech, then that should have been made clear, because so far as Wales was concerned we were not aware that the Government had changed their mind until the Home Secretary made his speech in Cambridge on 1lth September. The noble Lord has made an extremely serious statement. It was certainly not clear to anyone of us at all that the Government had changed their mind in the wording in the gracious Speech. This was really not a satisfactory state of affairs. I only hope now that the Government can be persuaded to change their mind again.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I said that I would not substantially say any more on this subject, and I am not going to do so, because I made quite a long passage on this in my speech in the beginning, to which the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, responded, and this is a matter which all of us ought to look at again when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
May I next say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that we depend upon Annan really for this Bill although we have not followed the recommendation for the OBA for reasons to which I referred at the beginning of the debate. But if we are to depend upon advertising for financial viability, which we believe that the fourth channel will achieve, them we must ensure that advertising does not have an adverse effect upon the nature and the quality of the programme service.
At the end of his speech my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn spoke in favour of a sales force for the selling of advertising on the fourth channel, committed to the success of the fourth channel alone. I understand the case which my noble 621 friend is putting forward. But I believe that my noble friend is not giving due weight to the problem that the ITV contractors are financing the start of the fourth channel. They will not recruit more than a small fraction of the subscription which they are going to pay by selling programmes to the channel, and it is in their interests to sell as much advertising as possible.
I may be wrong, but I did not discern from my noble friend's speech any alternative suggestion as to how the working capital of some £70 million to £80 million which is going to have to be raised at the start in order to establish the fourth channel can be raised, unless it is by the system which is laid down in the Bill—namely, for the money to come from the ITV contractors but for them to have the ability to sell the advertising.
Having said that, may I add two things? First, this is again a matter which my noble friend and other noble Lords would want to look at in more detail in Committee. Secondly, advertising interests have much to gain from the advent of the new channel. To put it at its lowest, there will be a considerable increase in the time available for advertisements on television. But what is perhaps even more important is that there will be a different kind of advertising time on offer, deriving from the different nature of the programmes to be broadcast on the channel.
I would only add that I remind your Lordships about the setting up of the Advertising Liaison Committee under Lord Thomson of Monifieth, which is already meeting and which I believe is going to be an important force in bringing together the advertising and broadcasting interests. Just to remind your Lordships that we have not let matters rest there, we have included in the Bill a requirement on the authority to include in their annual report an account of the complaints they have received about the advertising practices of their contractors and of the action they have taken in relation to these.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, spoke about sponsorship in his speech, raising the question of sponsorship of music, drama and art. The noble Lord referred to Section 8(6) of the 1973 Act, which, in effect, prohibits sponsorship 622 subject to certain exceptions listed in subsections (7) and (8) of Section 8 of the 1973 Act, and in particular the exemption in Section 8(8) of programmes broadcast in an educational service provided under Section 3(2)(c) of the 1973 Act.
The noble Lord asked whether "educational" included serious music, drama, and art. I have to say that it does not—at least not in the way I believe the noble Lord has in mind. That exemption in the 1973 Act was a limited exemption intended to ensure that if the IBA were to arrange for educational broadcasting services of an experimental nature to be provided otherwise than by a programme contractor it should not fall foul of that part of Section 8(6) which prohibits material which could reasonably be supposed to have been included in return for payment to the authority. I understand that this exemption has never been brought into use. But, may I make clear that there is nothing, so far as I know or am advised, to prevent the showing on ITV, or the fourth channel, of events which have themselves been sponsored. The noble Lord spoke about that also. The main Section 8(7)(c) of the 1973 Act specifically allows,items consisting of factual portrayals of doings, happenings, places or things [where these] do not comprise an undue element of advertisement".What is ruled out is the sponsorship of programmes themselves. On that I must say that I think that the legislation is right.
My noble friend Lord Crathorne spoke about the readvertising of contracts. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made some interesting remarks about the holding of public meetings, but, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I would prefer to take that away and look at it. On my noble friend's point, may I say that Clause 23 of the Bill amends Section 12 of the 1973 Act to require that no programme contracts should last or be extended for more than eight years in all; furthermore, before the IBA enters into a new contract for provision of programmes it will be required to take steps to sound public opinion in the area concerned by means which may include the holding of public meetings.
We intend—and this was announced by my honourable friend the Minister of 623 State in another place at Report stage—to add to this a requirement that the IBA should, before it enters into any contract for the provision of programmes, invite applications for that contract. This will not preclude the IBA from entering into a further contract with the same contractor, but it will reinforce their duty to ensure competition and to assess the incumbent's performance against the potential of other applicants. If I may say so, in general terms because of the lateness of the hour, I think that is right. It is absolutely no reflection on the practices of the IBA, which have been exactly along these lines. Here again, if my noble friend feels that he would like to return to this at a later stage of the Bill, I would be very ready to do so.
May I also turn to a general point about the levy which was made by the noble Lords, Lord Harris, Lord Donaldson, Lord Annan, and my noble friend Lord Bessborough? All of them in general terms gave expression to some unease, particularly about the marginal rate of the levy. I know I am repeating what has been said in another place, and therefore briefly, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary indicated in another place, both he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are presently undertaking a review of the whole operation of the ITV levy. The Government's reasons for undertaking this review are that we are anxious about the high marginal rate produced by the present profit-based levy system, which of itself we realise creates very little incentive towards cost consciousness in the companies affected. Not-withstanding that, we do not propose to introduce amendments to the Broadcasting Bill.
I think your Lordships who know more—many of you much more—about this than I do, will have also read that we are thinking that maybe in the end some amalgamation of the present levy system and the old levy system may be the right way forward, although we very much take to heart what the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said, that the previous levy based on revenue was something which was found not to work, and indeed was agreed not to work by both the present Government and the present Opposition.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, asked 624 a direct question to which I can give a direct answer. The managing director of a company on behalf of the company—similarly, a diplomat on behalf of his or her country—can make representations to the complaints commission. I give that answer to the noble Lord in his absence because I am sure the House would like to hear that answer.
I thank my noble friend Lord De La Warr and the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, for their interesting speeches about satellites. Lord Hill asked me a direct question—for an assurance that we were looking at that important development—and I give him that assurance. The Home Secretary said in March in another place that he had decided to initiate a study of the implications of establishing a United Kingdom direct broadcasting satellite service by about 1985, which would be the earliest practicable date possible. The study is being carried out with urgency by the Home Office in close consultation with other interested Government departments, the broadcasting authorities and such other organisations as may be directly interested. We are pressing ahead with it as fast as we can and my right honourable friend intends to polish a paper setting out the results of the study about the end of the year.
My noble friend Lord De La Warr and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, then spoke in particular about the coming and future of video-discs. I will look at their remarks and draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend. My noble friend also spoke about subscription television, and I thank him not only for his remarks but for the welcome he gave to the policy which my noble friend is following in this respect. I will not repeat what he said, but I think he would agree that we are making a positive response to the obvious wish, as we see it, of some people to go in for subscription television. It will be extremely interesting to see where exactly that leads.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about the desirability of setting up industry training boards in connection with the training requirements in the Bill. In this field, as the noble Baroness well knows, training cannot be done in exactly the same way as for cameramen, journalists, technicians, producers, presenters 625 and engineers, all of whom need rather different skills. The new clause in the Bill, by requiring the IBA to report on training, will allow Parliament and the public to scrutinise what is being done in all those areas; and that alone will mean that the matter will be coming back regularly to your Lordships' House for us to look at again.
I have left many questions unanswered, but I shall now endeavour to write to noble Lords to whose points I have not replied. I see around me many noble Lords to whose speeches I listened with extreme interest, and that applies to the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Hooson, particularly Lord Hooson's remarks about the complaints commission. If the House will forgive me—because some of us have the pleasure of another debate—I will conclude by saying that I hope I have been able to satisfy noble Lords on the points that have been raised. Even if noble Lords are not satisfied on every individual issue, I hope there will be agreement that, in general, the Bill is a worthwhile measure, which will help to preserve and develop broadcasting of the quality which we in this country have for so long enjoyed and have come to expect.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.